It’s not uncommon for fans of the World Cup to have the urge to get out and kick the ball around trying to recreate what they’ve just seen on TV in their backyard, but for World Cup winner José Kléberson the experience watching home is very different.
“For me it’s tough staying in my house and watching the game because I really want to stay inside the field and help Brazil,” former Brazilian international Kléberson said after playing in a friendly for Bethlehem Steel FC against Reading United last week. “Now that life is past.”
After finishing his playing career with Indy Eleven and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, the 39-year-old returned to the Union organization last year to coach in the academy. He was promoted to head coach of the U12 team in March.
Though he played only one season for the Philadelphia Union back in 2013, his only goal in 13 appearances was one few fans of the blue and gold will ever forget. It came off of a free kick deep into stoppage time and gave the Union the much-needed win to stay alive in the playoff hunt.
During his substitute performance last week for Steel FC, an opportunity for a free kick and his teammates all looked to him. His attempt missed the target.
“That’s a big pressure, the free kick,” he said. “It’s different now, that was five years ago, I don’t have much power in my shooting. I have it in my head, but my leg is a little bit tired.”
Fellow Brazilian Fred da Silva, the head coach of the U14 team, also played in Tuesday night’s friendly. Fred played for the Union and Steel from 2014-16 and spent some time playing indoor this past season with the Harrisburg Heat.
“It’s good to be playing,” Fred said. “And it’s good to be playing with Kléberson. I always played against him in Brazil, but today I have the pleasure to play with him.”
Kléberson and Fred aren’t the only Brazilians in the Union organization. In fact, first team defender Fabinho was at the game in Reading — part of the annual Philadelphia Union Festival — along with teammates Auston Trusty, Anthony Fontana and John McCarthy signing autographs and posing for photos with friends. The first team roster also includes Brazilian midfielder Ilsinho. With apologies to Jack Elliott and Alejandro Bedoya, you could say that Brazil is the country with the biggest connection to the team still in the World Cup.
Steel FC assistant Stephen Hogan, a former Reading United head coach who was the Steel head coach in the match in Brendan Burke’s absence, was thrilled not only to coach against his former team but to have the two Brazilians to bring off the bench in a game that ended in a 1-1 draw.
“The two of them are doing a fantastic job in our academy,” Hogan said. “It’s good to have them out here and for people here to see that they’re an important part of this organization.”
Though the World Cup he won with Brazil was 16 years ago now, Kléberson said he still talks to fans quite a bit about the experience. Just recently he visited players from Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals 2003 boys team to share about his playing career.
“It’s my pleasure to have a World Cup and to be able to talk to people about being on the team, when I was in the final and some of the players I played with like Ronaldo and Rivaldo,” he said. “I’m so glad for God to give me the opportunity.”