The Kleberson question: Where could he fit?
The Philadelphia Union have started the season with three showings from its midfield that have been indifferent and inconsistent.
The Union’s protracted breakup with Freddy Adu has the chance to net them a player, likely Brazil World Cup winner Kleberson, once thought of as one of the foremost central midfielders in the world.
It’s a rare win-win scenario, but it also shines the light on what may be an area of the team to shore up if Union manager John Hackworth and company are intent on hanging onto their high standing in the Eastern Conference.
Hackworth has said all the right things in regard to his midfield. He understands that they’re not yet at their best but that they have a high ceiling. He has faith in the pieces that he’s assembled.
“I’m happy with our midfield,” he said Wednesday in his weekly press conference. “I know we can play better, and I think that’s a major distinction. I sit here as the head coach of a team that's in second place in the East right now. I don't want to plant any seeds out there that I don't think our midfield has done a good job.”
In the “tactical fluidity” Hackworth so often trumpets, he recognizes that part of the onus is on him to put them in systems and combinations that work regularly.
But to introduce into an already crowded selection picture another name like Kleberson with the high profile and (hopefully) high talent to play early and often surely says something.
In many ways, Kleberson is the type of midfielder that got away from Hackworth’s offseason plans (which, it should be noted, included the auditioning of a midfielder in Pantelis Kafes whose international experience, age and positioning bare at least some resemblance to Kleberson’s). The Adu saga gives them an opportunity to reexamine that.
“I’ve always felt that one of our key goals in the offseason was to try to bring in a very established midfielder that we felt would add to the players that we already have,” Hackworth said. “That didn’t happen in this offseason as you guys know. So I would say that we always continue to look for those opportunities. This is not driven because we feel that our midfield is not good enough right now. The fact is that I think we can get better, and I think the players in our midfield can get better. But when you get the opportunity to bring a player like Kleberson in who meets both the quality and the experience factor, it certainly that makes it much more interesting for us.”
It’s tough not to see the mention of Kleberson as somehow a commentary on the play of Brian Carroll. The Union captain has had a nondescript start to the season. Couple that with surprisingly strong play from Mikel Lahoud and Keon Daniel, and it’s obvious that something needs to give in the center of the pitch if Kleberson does arrive.
Carroll brings more than just want the stats say, and that’s the reason that Hackworth not only deemed him worthy of the armband but why he’s confident his play will turn around.
“Brian Carroll is our captain; he’s our leader,” Hackworth said. “When I talk about us and the feeling that we can play better – sure I think Brian Carroll can play better. But he’s the type of guy that you don’t even have to tell that to because he holds himself accountable in such a way that makes him one of our leaders. Has this been the best he’s ever played? Probably not. But he’s still been very good, and we know there’s better days and better games in him.”
I’ve said before that having Carroll and Amobi Okugo coexist in the midfield would be problematic (though the resulting switch has been more fruitful than even Hackworth could’ve imagined). Unless Kleberson has an ability to play left back that hasn’t been revealed in his almost two decades as a pro, I see a similar problem without a similar solution.
It’s possible that they could meld together somehow, perhaps Kleberson in a more advanced role to leave Carroll to do the dirty defensive work.
Should the deal happen, though, both Carroll (by virtue of being captain) and Kleberson (with his big name, salary and likely DP designation) carry significant reasons as to why Hackworth should put them on the field each game.
And if those pieces of the jigsaw puzzle don’t fit quite right, it could be an uncomfortable union.