Brazilian playmaker Kleberson arrived into PPL Park as a half-million dollar man, the playmaker that could ostensibly jazz up Philadelphia’s attack, adding another dimension to a tightly organized bunch, but one that sorely missed some midfield creativity.
Earlier this year, Jack McInerney’s surprisingly prodigious rate of scoring helped make up for that missing midfield element. The young striker enjoyed a serious spring flourish, striking 10 times to lead all MLS scorers into June.
When the inevitable slowdown arrived for McInerney (he has not scored in 10 games now), veteran forward Conor Casey was there to make up the offensive deficit. Casey, even more than McInerney earlier, was the beneficiary of zippy wide service from Sebastien Le Toux, who now leads MLS with 12 assists.
Here’s the problem: tactical game-planning becomes more extensive as clubs lean into the playoffs (and the efforts to get there). So, shut down the passing lanes into Le Toux, or use your best one-on-one defender to deny service once the balls arrive into Le Toux, and you have gone a long way to staunching the Union attack.
That’s one reason Philadelphia has one goal in its last three matches and looks increasingly in danger of being overtaken by Houston or Chicago for a playoff spot.
Is the answer sitting on John Hackworth’s bench? It had better be.
A lack of match fitness early and a quad injury later has kept Kleberson mostly stuck on the Union bench. Even when he was healthy, but not playing much, Hackworth insisted the man had a role at PPL Park. That’s fine, but if role players cost a cool half-a million, somebody has made a ginormous mistake.
The Union, probably the most cash-strapped team in MLS, can afford big salary blunders even less that most clubs. Safe to say, nobody around PPL Park wanted to pay $500,000 in salary for seven appearances (in early September), no goals and no assists from a veteran attacker.
A good analysis of the Union’s offensive struggles is here from The Delco Times. But here’s the boil-down as it relates to Kleberson and his increasingly possible write-off as an official DP Downer:
Injuries, fitness … whatever … None of that matters with seven rounds remaining. It’s a bottom-line business at some point and it’s time for Kleberson to deliver value.
If he can open up the middle, giving opposing defenses something significant to worry about in there, the Union has a good chance down the stretch. If not, they still have a chance to grind out the results – but the team’s playoff odds decline sharply at that point.
They’ll have to score a goal at some point to make the playoffs, and then to get anywhere once they arrive into the post-season.