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Do Philadelphia’s playoff chances depend on … Kleberson?

Sep 3, 2013, 5:40 PM EDT

Kleberson 2

Brazilian playmaker Kleberson arrived into PPL Park as a half-million dollar man, the playmaker that could ostensibly jazz up Philadelphia’s attack, adding another dimension to a tightly organized bunch, but one that sorely missed some midfield creativity.

Earlier this year, Jack McInerney’s surprisingly prodigious rate of scoring helped make up for that missing midfield element. The young striker enjoyed a serious spring flourish, striking 10 times to lead all MLS scorers into June.

When the inevitable slowdown arrived for McInerney (he has not scored in 10 games now), veteran forward Conor Casey was there to make up the offensive deficit. Casey, even more than McInerney earlier, was the beneficiary of zippy wide service from Sebastien Le Toux, who now leads MLS with 12 assists.

Here’s the problem: tactical game-planning becomes more extensive as clubs lean into the playoffs (and the efforts to get there). So, shut down the passing lanes into Le Toux, or use your best one-on-one defender to deny service once the balls arrive into Le Toux, and you have gone a long way to staunching the Union attack.

That’s one reason Philadelphia has one goal in its last three matches and looks increasingly in danger of being overtaken by Houston or Chicago for a playoff spot.

Is the answer sitting on John Hackworth’s bench? It had better be.

A lack of match fitness early and a quad injury later has kept Kleberson mostly stuck on the Union bench. Even when he was healthy, but not playing much, Hackworth insisted the man had a role at PPL Park. That’s fine, but if role players cost a cool half-a million, somebody has made a ginormous mistake.

The Union, probably the most cash-strapped team in MLS, can afford big salary blunders even less that most clubs. Safe to say, nobody around PPL Park wanted to pay $500,000 in salary for seven appearances (in early September), no goals and no assists from a veteran attacker.

A good analysis of the Union’s offensive struggles is here from The Delco Times. But here’s the boil-down as it relates to Kleberson and his increasingly possible write-off as an official DP Downer:

Injuries, fitness … whatever … None of that matters with seven rounds remaining. It’s a bottom-line business at some point and it’s time for Kleberson to deliver value.

If he can open up the middle, giving opposing defenses something significant to worry about in there, the Union has a good chance down the stretch. If not, they still have a chance to grind out the results – but the team’s playoff odds decline sharply at that point.

They’ll have to score a goal at some point to make the playoffs, and then to get anywhere once they arrive into the post-season.

  1. stanforda87 - Sep 3, 2013 at 5:46 PM

    Is there a (relatively) easy explanation for why the Union would be the most cash-strapped team in MLS?

    • ayevarviva - Sep 3, 2013 at 5:49 PM

      I would like to read that too, MLS club finances are difficult to understand its ridiculous.

    • Steve Davis - Sep 3, 2013 at 5:53 PM

      Mostly its about which MLS owners have the deepest pockets … not necessarily about which owners are more willing to lay out some cash.

    • talgrath - Sep 3, 2013 at 7:51 PM

      First, Philadelphia’s stadium only holds 18,500, gate and concessions revenue is a big source of income for MLS teams; though they do average attedance near a sell out crowd so it’s possible expansion of the stadium might not be a bad idea.

      Second, a lot of how deep your pockets are in MLS comes down to who owns your team, most teams don’t make a profit for the owners right now, so bringing in talent usually means the owners opening up their wallets. The Union’s owners are wealthy, to be sure, but they aren’t as wealthy as many owners are, they are primarily founders or partners in small or mid-sized investment groups. The owners of the Union are rich, but they aren’t Paul Allen (one of the owners of the Sounders and Seahawks) rich.

      The deeper details of their financials are, of course, secret, but combine those two and you can see why they don’t have the deepest of pockets in MLS.

      • thenjhammer - Sep 10, 2013 at 6:15 PM

        expansion of the stadium has been discussed. its up to around 19+ now but they were discussing expanding it with the thought of enticing a D1 college football team to play there (but that would mean it would have to be 30+ which the Union probably couldnt sell out)

    • cszack4 - Sep 4, 2013 at 10:11 AM

      The explanation is pretty easy. Union ownership is primarily real-estate guys. They bought the club right before the real-estate bubble burst.

  2. icelovinbrotha215 - Sep 3, 2013 at 6:49 PM

    He may be. Ever since McInerney got called up to the National Squad, he has lost his scoring touch. There really isn’t any player on the offensive side of the ball stepping up. KB may be the one to open things up as defences tighten up.

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