Photo: Paul Rudderow
Most fans have come to expect over the years that their favorite team’s highest paid player would convert the big play in the clutch to seal an important win. Michael Jordan, Albert Pujols, Peyton Manning, Sidney Crosby, even Landon Donovan to an extent. These are the types of players that seal their legacy by delivering when the chips are down.
Then there is Jose Kleberson.
The Brazilian’s name doesn’t belong on the list with the others. It’s more of a contrast to give an idea about the strange situation Kleberson finds himself in.
“The expiring contract”
If you’ve listened to the Philly Soccer Show, our own Greg Orlandini had this pegged early on. Kleberson is the MLS equivalent of the NBA expiring contract. He is clearly not in John Hackworth’s long-term plans. He’s a 34-year-old central midfielder on a team full of those types.
There is a balance between winning now and building for the future. Would Kleberson mean any more in the point total for 2013? That’s not an easy question to answer. Why start a guy who isn’t going to factor into the future, whose place on this roster amounts to an early conclusion to the failed Freddy Adu experiment?
Desperation calls for desperate measures
Until Saturday night, Kleberson had made one appearance in the last four months. He was injured on June 1, but he was included in the 18 on July 21st at PPL Park against Portland. It’s not like the Union center midfield has been churning out solid performances. For a World Cup champion to only make one substitute appearance in the last 11 matches for a team struggling for quality in that area is baffling.
This is not to say that Kleberson should be an automatic starter. His only solid run of starts concluded with that June 1 injury, with dwindling performances in each start leading up to the injury.
But as a substitute? As a team is sinking past the pivotal fifth place line in their conference? In matches where the dearth of ideas being asserted from midfield has been and remains a real concern? Why the heck not?
For whatever reason, John Hackworth changed his thinking on Saturday. Maybe it was because the situation was dire. Instead of further cementing that final playoff position, the Union were coming up short again, just like that demoralizing 5-1 loss at New England. Fabinho had put Philadelphia down a man. The coach had already pulled the team’s leading scorer (Jack McInerney) and the only forward that has scored in over 2 months (Conor Casey).
So, with hope fading, Hackworth called Kleberson’s number.
The Brazilian may well have saved the season with one late free kick.
But as any Union observer might glean from the situation, even that moment of sheer brilliance may not buy him another chance.
Legend in the making?
Faryd Mondragon continues to sit in the hearts of many Union fans as one of the key reasons Philadelphia made the playoffs in 2011. While his stats don’t show him to be the most efficient keeper in MLS history, he was the guy that settled the defense and brought about a new belief to a team that gushed goals in its inaugural season.
Obviously, Mondragon’s renown stands alone at this point, but Kleberson may have carved his own place in Philadelphia Union history, even if he never sees the pitch at PPL Park again.
2013 has been a strange season. With the Fire and Revolution within striking distance of the Union, a playoff spot is in no way a given. Yet with all of the midfield dysfunction, the rise and fall of a budding young striker, and without a hint of efficacy from either wing in most matches, the Union are nearly there.
It could all come down to a couple of points seized on a warm October evening by the highest paid player on the team.
It’s only remarkable if you know the whole story.