Photo: Courtesy of Philadelphia Union
It was nearly two years ago that I first made the joke, a throwaway line in an offseason rambling about the Union’s new practice fields.
“The money could better have been spent building a rocket with which Fabinho could be fired into the Sun.”
After a year and a half of undistinguished service to the team, Fabinho seemed to be a manifestation of every problem with the Philadelphia Union. A defender who couldn’t defend, prone to moments of rashness, seemingly signed for his Brazilian passport rather than any particular skills. Not long after the piece was written, the Union even protected Fabinho in the expansion draft over promising rookie Pedro Ribeiro, who was quickly snatched up by Orlando City.
No wonder it became an occasional joke in the comments section, or in my own columns. Fabinho’s sun rocket, under construction, soon to launch from a barge on the Delaware River after the latest disappointing performance.
A funny thing started to happen, though. Fabinho locked down the left back position — of course, having no real competition — and started to figure out how to fill the role of an attacking fullback. At the start of 2016, with Ray Gaddis dislodged from his right back spot by Keegan Rosenberry, Fabinho nonetheless earned the trust of Jim Curtin on the left. His performances suddenly indicated intelligent thought, a recognition of his skillset and a minimization of the ridiculous errors and fouls that plagued his early Union career.
Not every game has been perfect, of course. But against all the odds, Fabinho became an MLS-quality left back. Even more shockingly, Fabinho is now the Union’s fourth-longest-tenured player, after only the ageless Brian Carroll (2011) and draft picks Gaddis (2012) and Fernandes (2013).
When the Union set foot on the Gillette Stadium turf on Saturday, no member of the starting eleven had been with the team longer than Fabio Alves.
There are lots of different players who might deserve this week’s award, after a top-tier performance from the full complement of field players (excepting, perhaps, Warren Creavalle).
But the defining moment of the game, in my eyes, came barely a minute into the match. Chris Pontius, running back toward his own goal, plays a short pass to his fullback, Fabinho, perhaps anticipating that play will be recycled.
Fabinho takes off like, well, a rocket. He drags one hapless Revolution dude for forty yards, receiving the ball in his own half and blasting down the touchline. Another gentleman attempts to slide tackle Fabi. No dice — the Brazilian imperiously plows toward the corner flag. A third guy gives up entirely. Maybe it looks like he thought the ball had rolled out for a throw in, but we all know that Fabinho had simply broken his will.
Said it before and will say it again: no mortal human can stop Fabinho.
— Dave Zeitlin (@DaveZeitlin) August 13, 2016
By this point, Fabinho is all by himself at the corner flag. One touch, two, then the cross, perfectly placed at the edge of the six-yard box, awaiting the arrival of C.J. Sapong, awaiting the touch that will beat Bobby Shuttleworth and break the game open after just seventy-eight seconds of gameplay. It’s his third assist of the season, a season that thus far ranks as his best in the Blue and Gold.
After all this time, maybe a rocket was the right device for Fabinho. But I no longer think the rocket’s destination will inevitably be the sun. (Admittedly, he does make a play or two every week that makes me want to expedite construction.)
Now, the rocket’s speed and power has been harnessed to create a competent attacking left back. Maybe that — competence with minimal moments of madness — is all we can ask for.
But it’s only fair to appreciate these moments of brilliance when they come.
Launch cancelled, Fabi. Enjoy the Player of the Week award.
PSP Player of the Week Awards, 2016 Season
Ryan Richter (8/9)
Murphy Agnew (8/2)
Nathan Regis (7/26)
Chris Pontius (3/15, 7/19)
Chevaughn Walsh (7/6)
Roland Alberg (6/21, 6/28)
Brian Carroll (4/26, 6/1)
Richie Marquez (5/24)
Keegan Rosenberry (5/17)
Sebastien Le Toux (4/19)
Tranquillo Barnetta (4/11)
C.J. Sapong (3/22)
Andre Blake (3/8)