Do Philadelphia’s playoff chances depend on … Kleberson?

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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.

Jonas nets 2 late goals to keep Benfica in title hunt

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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Jonas scored two late goals to lead Benfica’s 3-1 comeback win at Pacos Ferreira on Saturday, keeping it close to Portuguese league leader FC Porto.

Jonas equalized in the 72nd minute and gave the defending champion the lead in the 88th.

[ MORE: Man United-Chelsea meet in giant Sunday PL clash ]

Rafa Silva added a third goal after the host was reduced to 10 men in stoppage time when Gian dos Santos was shown a direct red card.

Luiz Phellype gave Pacos Ferreira the lead in the ninth.

The double increased Jonas’ league-leading tally to 27 goals.

Benfica moved to within two points of Porto before the pacesetter visits Portimonense on Sunday.

Sporting Lisbon is third at five points behind Porto. It hosts Moreirense on Monday.

Orlando City trades defender Jose Aja to Whitecaps for allocation money

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The Vancouver Whitecaps have struck a deal with an Eastern Conference side to help solidify their back line.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Johannsson leads Werder Bremen to win ]

On Saturday, the Cascadia club finalized a deal to acquire Orlando City defender Jose Aja in exchange for $125,000 in Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) for 2019.

Additionally, Orlando could receive another $100,000 in TAM if Aja remains on the Whitecaps roster next season and a 2021 second-round MLS SuperDraft pick if Aja is in Canada for the 2020 campaign.

Aja has made 25 appearances for Orlando since coming to MLS in 2016 from his native Uruguay.

The timing of the deal is intriguing, given Tim Parker’s willingness to exit the Whitecaps ahead of the 2018 MLS season.

PST reported on Thursday that Parker is seeking a move back to the East Coast, and the New York-native is being tracked by several Eastern Conference sides, including the New York Red Bulls, D.C. United and the Montreal Impact.

Parker is considered one of the top American defenders in MLS, and is actively seeking a massive pay raise ahead of the new season, after making just under $100,000 in 2017.

PL Sunday preview: Red Devils battle Chelsea at Old Trafford

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It will surely be one of the biggest fixtures of the season when Manchester United and Chelsea get together on Sunday, and for both clubs a victory could be vital in projecting their form for the rest of the 2017/18 campaign.

Meanwhile, a crucial meeting at Selhurst Park pits teams on opposite ends of the table against one another. Crystal Palace enters the weekend levels on points with 18th-place Swansea, while Tottenham could leap Chelsea for fourth if results go in favor of Spurs.

[ MORE: Liverpool continues to score at lightning pace against West Ham ]

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN

The injury bug has hit Palace hard as of late, with a total of 12 senior team players being left out of Roy Hodgson‘s squad. The list includes Wilfried Zaha, Yohan Cabaye and Mamadou Sakho, which won’t make things easy against a talented Spurs side.

Tottenham have had a ton of success in this fixture recently, winning the last five encounters and only allowing one goal in the process.

Mauricio Pochettino‘s men have hit the ground running in the second half of the season thus far, picking up a league-high 15 points in the Premier League since the start of 2018.

If there is a saving grace for the Eagles though, it is that Palace has been solid at home this season, and gone unbeaten in nine of its last 10 fixtures at Selhurst.

Manchester United vs. Chelsea — 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN

After a pair of draws from the PL sides kicked off their Champions League Round of 16 campaigns midweek, United and Chelsea can now focus their attention back to England; at least for the time being.

Jose Mourinho’s team came away from Seville with a crucial scoreless draw after the hosts tested goalkeeper David De Gea on numerous occasions, while Chelsea were close to pulling out a victory against Barcelona had it not been for a big-time mistake from Andreas Christensen late in the match.

Nonetheless, this is a fixture that always garners significant attention, especially from the Blues, who tend to have a better go of it. United has won just once against Chelsea in their last 14 fixtures, with the lone victory coming last season.

That said, Antonio Conte and his side have failed to exemplify consistency this year, and that includes road matches. The Blues have just two road wins in their last nine attempts across all competitions, which bodes well for the Red Devils.

The good news for Chelsea is the recent form of attacking duo Willian and Eden Hazard. The Brazilian was constantly in dangerous positions up the pitch against the Blaugrana in their recent UCL encounter, nabbing the lone goal for the Blues, while Hazard has scored six times in his last six PL matches.

The 2 Robbies: Unstoppable Liverpool, Man United-Chelsea and more

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In today’s episode, Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe discuss Liverpool’s emphatic win over West Ham (0:17), breakdown an extremely complicated relegation situation where nearly half of the league is in jeopardy of going down (10:05), before closing the show with a preview of tomorrow’s Man United v. Chelsea match (28:10).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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