Well, Union fans, it looks like this is your team.
The summer transfer window closed this week with the Union opting to make only a backup goalkeeper (Oka Nikolov), a backup left back/left winger (Fabinho) and a long-term project (Gilberto) their international acquisitions. Part of that is due to salary cap restraints but it also shows that manager John Hackworth is mostly content with his starting lineup (and will probably not make any significant trades until after the season).
So with 11 games left in the year and the Union right in the thick of a heated Eastern Conference playoff race (look at these standings!), we pretty much know how the team will look. Zac MacMath will be in goal; Ray Gaddis, Jeff Parke, Amobi Okugo and Sheanon Williams will hold down the defense; Danny Cruz and/or Fabinho will be on the left wing and Sebastien Le Toux will be on the right wing; and Conor Casey and Jack McInerney will start up top.
Of course, the one starting spot still sort of up for grabs is one of the most important ones on the field: central attacking midfielder. And while the Union have a lot of options there, none of them have exactly seized the opportunity.
Michael Farfan and Keon Daniel have earned the most playing time but have combined to rack up a grand total of one goal and two assists between them in 2,680 combined minutes. Leo Fernandes has become one of Hackworth’s favorite midfield reserves but showed his rookie inexperience by committing a turnover right before the go-ahead goal in last week’s loss to the Chicago Fire. And then there’s World Cup winner Kleberson and fan favorite Roger Torres, who’ve been completely buried on the depth chart despite possessing the kind of technical ability few players on the Union can match.
Leading up to Saturday’s critical nationally televised game against D.C. United at PPL Park, Hackworth fielded a lot of questions about the spot and why Kleberson – the team’s highest-paid player – hasn’t played at all since June 1, first because of an injury and then because he seemingly got passed on the depth chart by a player in Fernandes who once idolized him.
“Kleberson is a big name and I know there’s a lot of people that have this huge expectation for him,” Hackworth said. “But he was brought here for a reason and he has done everything we asked and if we get the opportunity to plug him in, I’m quite confident he’ll be ready for it.”
When Hackworth says, “He was brought here for a reason,” what he probably means is, “We had to bring him in order to get rid of Freddy Adu.” But it’s still hard for some fans to believe that Kleberson can’t leapfrog the club’s collection of uninspiring central midfield choices and find his way back onto the pitch.
“We’ve got a lot of different options to choose from based on the game and based on how things are working,” explained captain Brian Carroll, who’s started every game as the club’s holding midfielder. “It’s a great problem to have.”
Well, it is a problem. It just doesn’t really seem like a great one.