Photo: Earl Gardner
This will come as no surprise: José Kléberson Pereira is this week’s PSP Player of the Week. His 95th-minute free-kick game-winner was the one moment of real quality in an otherwise uninspired game between Philly and Toronto. That he was a 79th-minute substitute, just as the Union had been reduced to ten men, only highlights further the dramatic value of his contribution.
To be clear: anything but three points against Toronto FC on Saturday would have been a huge failure for Philadelphia. While it would not have mathematically eliminated the team from the playoffs, it would have made winning the final two games a requirement, away to Montreal and home to Kansas City. Considering the Union’s struggles of late, that is a very tall order.
So, after more than ninety minutes, in a game enlivened more by excellent defensive work by Ray Gaddis and big misses by Antoine Hoppenot, the Union were left with one final chance, a free kick just twenty-four yards out.
It was an ideal location, really, but the Union had given no indications through the previous 30 MLS games that they were likely to take advantage. Sébastien Le Toux, whose dead ball skills have improved greatly this season, but which have regressed considerably recently, stood over the ball with Kléberson, whose time with the Union still seems unwritten. His short flashes of skill have made him seem a tantalizing possibility, but his lack of playing time has made that possibility ever unrealized.
Kléberson confidently shooed Le Toux away, strode up to the ball and stroked a perfect free kick. The ball lifted over the wall, starting its flight path outside the frame of the goal, then bent swiftly inside the upper 90, leaving Joe Bendik rooted to the ground. Bendik had been his usual competent self all game, but he didn’t even bother trying to save Kléberson’s shot. He knew he had no chance.
And so the Union’s season was saved, for another game, at least. The celebrations by Kléberson and his teammates were wild. They knew how big a moment they had just witnessed.
John Hackworth knows it, too, surely. The question is: Will that result in a start for the Union’s latest hero? Only Hack knows, but whatever he does for the rest of the season, and whether or not he remains with the team after it, Kléberson has written a new and indelible line in the story of the Philadelphia Union. That’s why he’s PSP’s Player of the Week,