Union

The Kleberson effect, and other MLS thoughts

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Interesting week for the Union and MLS. Here are some observations.

The Kleberson effect

Brian Carroll looks like a different player when paired with Kleberson. With the Brazilian genuinely playing a more advanced playmaking role, Carroll has been freed up from having to support the attack so that he can focus on what he does best: Shielding the back line. Not only does Carroll look to be playing better defensively, but so too is the back line.

Reevaluating the Kleberson-Adu deal

Until Wednesday, it was beginning to look as though Kleberson joined the Union almost solely because his loan deal expires in December, whereas the man he was exchanged for, Freddy Adu, was under contract for two more years at a higher salary.

Forget that notion. Kleberson can clearly still play. He looks like the CAM the Union have lacked since the team first formed.

The difference between Kleberson and Keon Daniel at center attacking midfield is like night and day. The Union’s offense suddenly has some fluidity to it. No, it’s not perfect yet. (Danny Cruz still has almost no part in the short passing game, and there’s no guarantee Michael Farfan won’t be returned to the left flank, where he is less effective than on his favored right side.) But it looks on its way. And that could change this club from a counterattacking mid-table team that regularly parks the bus to steal points to a good team that genuinely plays entertaining, attacking soccer.

Hey Negadelphia! Maybe Hackworth has a clue after all

Many fans have taken shots at Union manager John Hackworth for his lineup choices. A few were probably more deserved than others. But it became very clear over the last week that some of his oft-criticized choices were very justified.

  • Hackworth’s choice to slowly work Kleberson into the lineup

As good as Kleberson has appeared in stretches, it’s very clear he’s nowhere near 90-minute fitness. In fact, 60-minute fitness is probably pushing it. Hackworth clearly saw this in practice and knew that Kleberson hadn’t been starting regularly in Brazil over the past year, so he chose to work him into the lineup slowly.

  • Ray Gaddis starting at left back

Hackworth’s choice to play Gaddis at left back instead of Gabriel Farfan makes sense now that Farfan has revealed he asked to no longer play left back this season. Put simply, Gaddis was the best alternative on the roster, even considering his weak left foot.

The next question, logically, is why the Union didn’t try to acquire a proven left back in the off-season. Hackworth touted the merits of 20-year-old Damani Richards, only to cut him in training camp.

Well, it’s not like the Union had a lot of roster flexibility, thanks to the Freddy Adu situation. That likely limited options to Gaddis, Sheanon Williams, rookies and journeymen such as former Columbus left back Shaun Francis, who was in camp but not signed. Adu’s departure hasn’t yet added flexibility due to Kleberson taking his roster and salary spot.

If Bakary Soumare leaves in a trade, it could open salary space a left back. Then again, if Gaddis can regularly play as well as he did in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Chicago, then maybe one won’t be necessary.

  • The choice to start Jeff Parke and Amobi Okugo over Bakary Soumare on opening day

For Soumare, the rust was evident in his first two starts for the Union, and 90-minute fitness was not. That’s no surprise to him or anyone else who follows soccer. It takes time to regain form after a long injury layoff. On the other hand, Parke and Okugo were ready to play at a high level right away. On opening day, they were probably the two best center backs on the roster.

Soumare’s excellent performance in the most recent Chicago game, however, shows he still has the skill to play at a high level. No, he’s not 100 percent yet, but he’s on his way. By the time he is, he could be playing for another team. Either way, Parke’s hamstring injury could be a blessing in disguise, because Soumare has put in a good enough shift in the shop window that someone should come calling with a decent trade offer. For now, the Union benefit.

The best ref in MLS?

Allen Chapman may be the best referee in Major League Soccer. He only debuted in MLS last year,  but he consistently shows the confidence, prudence, judgment and demeanor required to control a very physical league. On Saturday, he controlled a potentially chippy match by judiciously handing out cards early. He showed he will book players for what they earn, not what they appear to earn. Example: He gave Sheanon Williams a yellow card and granted a free kick for a clear foul outside the penalty area, rather than award a PK after Sherjill MacDonald went down a bit too easily on subsequent contact from Williams after Chapman let them play the advantage. Over and over again, he made the right calls.

I’ve watched Chapman officiate several matches this year, and each time, he has called a stellar match. It’s a sharp departure from most MLS matches, in which poor officiating often plays a key part. PSP pioneered the Geiger Counter, our regular postgame rating of a referee’s performance, named after local referee Mark Geiger. We might have to figure out a clever term referencing Chapman for the matches that are actually officiated without controversy.

Whither Chivas USA?

Gabriel Farfan better make the most of his time at Chivas USA while he can. There’s no guarantee that team will be in southern California next year.

A few readers and I got to talking about Chivas on the site Monday, so here’s a little repurposing of my thoughts there.

If I’m MLS, I take the team, move it to San Antonio, and try a similar concept—but without a Mexican parent club—without being so explicit or uncompromising about it. San Antonio is a big and rapidly growing metropolitan area, 50 percent Latino, and proving successful so far in the NASL. It has only one major league team (the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs), its closest soccer competitors are at least 200 miles away (Houston, Monterrey*), and it would probably have a sizable pool of homegrown players from which to draw. Also, they already have a stadium that sits about 10,000 and can be expanded to about twice that. Build a good soccer team, and if you just happen to have a lot of Latino players in a heavily Latino community, well great. It’s good to reflect your community. If not, that’s fine too.

San Diego might have been the best move a year or two ago. Then Tijuana, a team formed in 2007, won the Mexican title in December and forged a popularity that seems to cross the U.S. border. Tijuana sits just 30 minutes from San Diego, they have a few American players, and they just poached one from the Galaxy’s youth academy. MLS may have missed its chance in San Diego, which is a shame, because it seemed an ideal place for the team. Now, Orlando and San Antonio look like the best alternatives outside New York City.

It should be no surprise that two MLS clubs haven’t thrived in Los Angeles, even putting aside Jorge Vergara’s mismanagement of Chivas USA. After all, Los Angeles can’t get two teams to thrive in other sports either. The Clippers have always played second fiddle to the Lakers. When the city had NFL teams, the Rams and Raiders were probably one team too many. (And look what happened: Both moved.) It’s just hard to do, particularly when you consider how young MLS is as a league.

North American sports are just different from what you have in Europe. Many soccer fans have visions of London, Manchester, Glasgow, and Milan derbies in their heads, but that’s just not how it sports work here. New York-Philadelphia, Toronto-Montreal, Portland-Seattle, Cleveland-Pittsburgh—rivalries between nearby regions, not within the same city, have always been been the best rivalries in North American professional sports.

58 Comments

  1. Yes, yes, maybe, sure, and really? three teams for Texas?

    • Texas is a big state.

    • If MLS is going to put another team in Texas, I’d rather see it go to Austin. It kind of has a Portland/Seattle thing going on, without any competing major league teams (ok UT football is probably bigger than some NFL teams, but still). Ton of expats, growing and prosperous core, plenty of latinos, etc. etc. San Antonio is meh, imho.

      • Smackey the Frog says:

        I spent 6 years living in SA. South Texas would gobble up a team like some extra-cheesy nachos. Soccer would fit perfectly there, plus you have natural rivalries with Hou and Dal.

        My only problem with it is the existing minor league team there already. Not sure if you can bump a still young Scorpions franchise up to MLS level so quickly. Also, who pays for it? If the NYC team cost $100M, how much would Chivas cost? $25M? $30M? Old Jorge won’t give it away for free.

      • Little issue there. The Scorpions already have a soccer-specific stadium up and running (and expandable to 18,000), not to mention a viable NASL franchise that’s at no risk of moving.

        The Aztex aren’t in nearly as good a situation (the previous incarnation moved to Orlando just a few years ago, and the current incarnation is in the fourth tier).

        Austin is good for SXSW and American football (you mentioned the semi-pro franchise with its own sports network)…perhaps Major League Lacrosse (just weird enough to differentiate it from the rest of Texas).

        San Antonio is good for Puro Futbol and MLS.

  2. Here is an observation I had this week. Could the Union have potentially traded Garfan for Aquduelo? I understand that Aguedelo want to go over seas, but maybe they could have made a push for him? I realize that we are deep at forward, but Juan can play.

    Also, the allocation money that that NE gave up for Aguedelo was given to the U in the Garfan trade. Chivas basically gave allocation money, a 1st round pick and Agudelo up for Garfan. Someone shouldn’t be fired over that, they should be shot!

    • I spelled his name 6 different ways in that post, perhaps I should be shot….

    • We have a million jillion forwards and one of them is leading the league in scoring. To go out of your way to trade Garfan for Juan Aquadelo who is not guaranteed to start and not guaranteed to stay isn’t worth it unless we could have quickly shipped him off for a left back.

    • There honestly would be no place for Agudelo on this team. By the time he got integrated into the team, he’d be gone.

    • For clarification, I was alluding to the fact that whoever works for Chivas is doing a poor job, not anyone at the U in regards to this example

  3. Can Gaddis’ differing performances these past two games be attributed to the guy playing LM in front of him, the quality of the opposition, or both?

    • I think you have to take Baky into account for some of his better play on Saturday. He was all over Ray during that game. In a good way. He was constantly talking to him getting him into the right position. I don’t know if Hack gave Soumare the keys or he took them by his own initiative but Baky was running that back line.

    • Dan Walsh says:

      Very good question. Quality of opposition probably has something to do with it. The LM in front of him? Not sure. The center back next to him, like Sieve mentions? Definitely. Soumare was very, very good vs. Chicago. Unasked: The DCM? Probably yes. Carroll looks much better with Kleberson. (See above.)

  4. A. Stanford says:

    Not buying the “Maybe Hackworth has a clue after all” argument re: Kleberson. He had plenty of opportunities to sub in Kleberson for Daniel in shorter stints to get him back into match fitness and failed to do so. It’s not as if Daniel was playing so well that it left Hackworth with a difficult decision on how to find time for Kleberson. I think Hackworth waited until Daniel’s play was so ridiculously poor that he couldn’t even convince himself anymore to leave him in there. The fact that he let it get to that point is what’s worrying. For the record, I don’t think Hackworth is clueless about everything – but his stance on Kleberson while our midfield consistently suffered was not good managing.

    • Agreed. We also have Torres and Fernandez. If Klebes wasn’t ready, then surely one of those guys should have been given a shot over Daniel.

  5. I’m still not sold on Hackworth. Yes Okugo and Parke were ready to play now But if they were truly committed to Baky being a part of this team why not play him during preseason and let him work the rust off there. That is why we have preseason. If it didn’t work out slot Okugo back.

    Why park the bus against a tiring and man down Chicago. Go for the throat.

    Why does he only make positive changes to the line up when forced by ciirumstance?

    The whole Left Back thing… seriously.

    And there is the very tiny Elephant in the room named R—– T—–.

  6. The Chivas rumors are coming on the heels of Beckham’s retirement and comments about coming back to the U.S. as an owner per the option in his original contract. Since MLS probably can’t/won’t offer him NYC2, might it be that they’re considering pulling Chivas and making it the Beckham team? I know Miami was a site floated for his franchise.

  7. Good points on the ref. I was worried about the game getting out of hand early in the second half, and turning into Seattle II. Then Chapman stopped the game after a foul to talk to some players (but mostly to slow the game down). Then the next two challenges that were the least bit over the line (Carroll’s and Anibaba’s) got cards — one for each team. That was textbook game control.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      I agree. The play you’re refering to was one when Cruz and Thompson got tangled up. The foul went against Cruz (which the crowd, myself included, disagreed with). However, it looked like the ref went over to Cruz and explained his call which settled things down. We are not going to agree with every call, nor is every call going to be correct, but the situation is a lot more tolerable when the ref explains what he thinks he saw to the players (and watching the play on TV last night I thought the call could have gone either way).

  8. Dan Walsh says:

    Quick correction: Monterrey, not Guadalajara, is a near competitor to San Antonio. Thanks to Rolando for the catch. (Had Chivas in my head, Guadalajara … yeah.)

  9. Congratulations to MLS on their 20th team.



    umm, what next? are they done expanding? will they keep adding teams until they have enough for two leagues, so they can reduce travel expenses while still playing a balanced schedule? will they try to help flesh out the lower leagues? I look to PSP for speculation on these and many other points

    • Does anyone think relegation/promotion will ever make its way into MLS?

    • Dan Walsh says:

      Well, since you ASKED … ;)

      I think they’ll be fine going to 22, but I don’t think the markets are there yet. Chivas has to move, so Orlando will probably get them (even if I think San Antonio is better). San Antonio strikes me as the next best market. San Diego only if Tijuana somehow collapes. So I think, after 20, provided Chivas moves, they’ll take their sweet old time before expanding again.

      re: Balanced schedule — They could. 38-game season? A bit long for the travel required here and the weather constraints. If they try to stay at 34 games … Two games a year vs. conference foes, one vs. the other conference … and then figure out what to do with another 5-6 games.

      And no, they won’t help the lower leagues. Not much, at least.

    • I don’t think they are done expanding. For all their talk of gradually growing the game I think they are drunk on their recent success and the owners are getting greedy with the expansion fees. I think they will turn around and push for 22 at least now that cities are starting to fall all over themselves to finance stadiums to get MLS franchises.

      I am afraid the MLS will enter a phase of expansion like the one the NHL had when they expanded into places like Columbus and Arizona with a philosophy of “If you build it they will come.” They may get away with it in New York but they can’t pull that off in too many other places.

      I see too many empty seats when I watch the MLS for me not to think they are in just as a precarious position as they were before, just with higher stakes.

      • The Duke says:

        Amen. And even in good markets (read: Philly) if the team’s performance is down, so is attendance. The more teams there are, the less likely a team is “doing well” relatively. It needs a balanced schedule so 20 or 22, idc. Houston back to the west conference next season?

  10. “The Kleberson Effect”…I like it.

  11. Now that Kleberson has arrived for real as a CAM, and LeToux is providing hustle and great service, we’re in a situation where the U have a bunch of starting-caliber forwards, and a shortage of wing midfielders. So maybe it’s finally time for the team to play a 4-3-3? I’m not a huge fan of the formation in general, but for this team it may be the optimal way to get the best 11 guys on the pitch. It would look like this:

    MacMath
    Williams-Okugo-Parke-Gaddis
    Carroll
    Farfan — Kleberson
    LeToux — Casey — McInerney

    This is actually a 4-1-2-3, of course. We get Williams and Gaddis to utilize their natural tendencies to head up the pitch for width, with real creative midfielders in front of them to work with.
    The potential weakness is getting the ball up to the attacking half through Carroll, though he has been somewhat better at that of late, partially relating to the pairing with Kleberson. Also, all three of our forwards are now capable of checking back into the midfield, so that may help too.

    • The Duke says:

      For as stubborn as Hack was with the line up, I have no reason to believe he will be instantly changing formations.

    • Great One says:

      The problem with making a formation change, as always, is bc Brian Carroll plays one position and can do one job only. Even though he has played it better the last 2 games than any other games. We will continue in the 4-4-2 pretty much no matter what, bc when we’ve changed, it has not worked out well.
      .
      Also, Hackworth will start Cruz pretty much no matter what, and for that matter I’m not sure that he won’t start Keon again.
      .
      I think it’s pretty clear that Kleberson, Soumare, Letoux and Casey are definitely in our best 11 players. However due to positioning and stubbornness from the manager, they basically will never all be on the field together to start.
      .
      Call me crazy, call me stubborn as well, but I still would just like to see if Parke/Soumare in the back, and Okugo/Kleberson at Mid would be successful. I don’t know that it will, but I would love to see it.

      • The Black Hand says:

        I don’t really care for LeToux in the midfield. Unless we switch to a 4-3-3, I don’t see Seba adding to the game. As a mid, he and Cruz are a wash.
        If we were to go 4-3-3, I would prefer Okugo in the CDM. We will need more versatility than Carroll can offer. Soumare has shown that, with more match fitness, he can be a formidable CB. A pairing with Parke would give us some serious size.
        Fun to speculate, but will never come to fruition. Hackworth is of an archaic mindset and I don’t see him thinking outside of his box.

      • Steve l. says:

        I would love to see the parke/Baky Okugo/kleberson thing tried against Toronto, why not tr it against a lesser team?

    • It would be interesting to see if Okugo as CDM (and Soumare/Parke in the back) would work, but as you say, we really have no idea. None of us has seen Okugo in the midfield since, like early last season. It irks me when people start yapping about this as though we actually did know. But I agree with you that I’d like to see it.

      I also agree that Carroll seems at his best at the fulcrum of a 4-4-2, but the main thing is 1) to not have anyone playing flat with him (didn’t work with Migs, nor with Lahoud); and 2) to not have other midfielders who abandon their defensive responsibilities. Farfan is good in the latter respect; not sure about Special K, but he seems to get back pretty well. So for these reasons, I thought it might possibly work.

      Basically, you’re getting LeToux (or Casey, depending on how you look at it) on the pitch instead of Cruz, and in his preferred position.

    • I agree with the lineup but I would replace Marfan with Okugo and slot Soumare into the back line. Not because Marfan isn’t good enough – he can clearly play that position – but with Okugo up there we may finally be able to win the middle of the field and his passing and ability to defend will be a welcome addition to the midfield. It would be a tight triangle in the middle and Jack/Gaddis and Seba/Williams would cover the wings.

  12. Chapmanometer

  13. How about the ‘Chap Stick’ award, for the guy who puts the whistle to his lips only when it’s needed?

    Also, since our new Brazilian seems to make his colleagues better, I move that we dub him “Special K”.

  14. WilkersonMcLaser says:

    Off topic, but this is pathetic: http://www.mlssoccer.com/news/article/2013/05/21/despite-inconsistent-playing-time-toronto-fcs-danny-califf-vows-i%E2%80%99m-still-go.

    Ryan Nelson has some awful heavy cojones if he feels confident sitting Califf with but one league win under his belt.

    If we DO trade Soumare and Okugo goes on Gold Cup duty, we could do a lot worse than Califf deputizing in a player-coach role. Just sayin’.

  15. scottymac says:

    I don’t think I am negative. I think I support this club emotionally and financially. I think the criticisms of Hackworth (lack of adjustments, inability to fix LB, handling of the Adu situation) are valid, not just “he’s a bum”. Today’s dealing of Soumare is another in that listing, unless it solves LB. Allocation money and draft picks do not help the team in the short term. If you want to point to a current playoff spot as proof Hack is a good manager, I think the deeper dive that we haven’t demonstrated an ability to beat good teams as proof that he isn’t yet.

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