Philadelphia Union Youth Development is introducing “jogo bonito” (the beautiful game) with the addition of former Union players and celebrated Brazilian professionals Kleberson and Fred da Silva to the full time staff this week.
Kleberson and Fred will have integral roles coaching the younger ages of the Union’s youth program, as U12 Academy coaches and as staff members of the new Philadelphia Union Juniors Pre-Academy. Fred will additionally head the U10 Juniors Pre-Academy age group.
Kleberson joins the staff this week having concluded a distinguished international playing career last season. Kleberson won a World Cup title with Brazil in 2002, starting the final and tallying an assist, and thrived during club stints with global stalwarts Manchester United (England), Flamengo (Brazil), and Besiktas (Turkey), amongst others. Kleberson has been playing in the U.S. since his 2013 signing by Philadelphia Union, and spent 2016 in the NASL with Ft. Lauderdale Strikers.
Fred da Silva, commonly known as “Fred,” completed a twenty-year career in 2016 as a player-coach with Bethlehem Steel. Fred played his first decade in his native Brazil, before moving to Australia with Melbourne Victory, where he was voted “Best Player” for the season in 2007. Fred spent seven season in MLS, including three with Philadelphia Union. Fred has been coaching with Union Youth in a variety of capacities over the past seven months.
The addition of Fred and Kleberson as Union U12 Academy coaches and with the Pre-Academy (U8-U11) staff is indicative of the Union’s commitment to a best-in-class youth development program and a high quality training environment for players in the crucial formative ages of six-to-twelve.
Academy Director Tommy Wilson said of the Kleberson hire and Fred promotion, "We are delighted to add Kleberson to our Academy staff where he will have a broad remit to work across all levels but more specifically with our U12 team. He obviously brings a wealth of playing experience from the Brazilian national team, Manchester United in the Champions League, and as a World Cup winner. Just as importantly, in my discussions with him, he has shown a burning desire to learn his trade as a coach and he is in the best place at our club for that. His relationship with our former player Fred will make the transition smoother, and we see a similar path being put in place for Fred as well.”
Teaching Love of the Game
Kleberson and Fred have been inserted into important roles with the renown Philadelphia Union Academy and “Pre-Academy,” an innovative new program for the top regional U8-U11 players. Their new positions with the youth program are reflective of U.S. Soccer’s call for focused investment on the U8 to U12 age groups, commonly referred to as “Zone 1.”
The passion and love for the sport the Brazilians bring to training is reflective of the Union’s emphasis on imparting a love of and passion for the game in Zone 1. The foundation of a nurturing training environment stimulates creativity and a willingness to undertake challenges at the earliest stages of development.
Kleberson has experienced the quality of the Union’s “Zone 1” developmental program in his first few sessions, noting that “his impression is high of the kids, a lot the kids have a lot of quality. They want to learn a lot… when I tell them I am Kleberson, and I’ve won a World Cup they say ‘wow, I want to learn from you.’ A lot of kids have good technique, and they have a good direction already.”
Fred, whose love of the game has left an impression with his Union colleagues throughout his career, hopes they will add to this quality by passing on their passion to their players. “If you try dribbling, if you love the ball, you’ll be fine. Kleberson and I try to tell them ‘enjoy, if you’re not smiling, you won’t be able to play soccer.’”
Fred continued, “If these kids are watching us… we have to be happy. With the little ones, you have to be out playing with them and having fun at training. It depends on you, the coach, at this level…and these kids are very excited to play, you can see it on their faces.”
A “Pathway to the Pros” For Coaches
The establishment of a “Pathway to the Pros,” with the introduction of Bethlehem Steel and an elite Academy program, has led to the introduction of Homegrown talents Auston Trusty, Derrick Jones, and Anthony Fontana.
However, a less discussed component of the “Pathway” is the development of coaching talent for the organization. Union Head Coach Jim Curtin, assistant B.J. Callaghan, and Bethlehem Steel Head Coach Brendan Burke all got their starts in the Union Youth program.
The Fred and Kleberson hires are indicative the Union’s commitment to rewarding top organizational talent has proven essential in recruiting top talent for the Academy.
Kleberson said, “[t]he coaching pathway influenced me a lot. I was talking to Jim and he told me he started with the kids…and I said why not me. I need to improve my English, I need to learn more about soccer in America. I know a lot about soccer, but I have time, and I think about my future, and I think here with the Union, I have a great chance in the future…to help the kids, to help the Union, and then who knows. I’m so happy to be here, to help kids…the kids here have good talent. The Union have a great program in place.”
Fred similarly is attracted by the Union’s proven success in developing coaches.
“In the beginning with Bethlehem, I didn’t expect to be here,” Fred said. “My goal was to play into my forties… but I had the opportunity to come here, and the past seven months I have grown so much into my coaching. It’s a different ‘Fred’ than the first day. There is an additional challenge to help the kids grow as a player and a mentor with the U12’s and U10’s now, and I have the goal to be a coach with the first team…I want to develop as a coach. Tommy Wilson, Earnie Stewart, Jimmy Curtin, that might be us one day.”
Under the tutelage of Academy Director Tommy Wilson and Pre-Academy Director Iain Munro, Fred and Kleberson will have the opportunity to learn from coaching legends with unrivaled resumes in coaching and player development worldwide.
While they continue to grow as coaches, Fred and Kleberson will offer the Union Academy and Pre-Academy players a combined forty years of professional experience. With their addition to an already impressive staff, the youngest Union players will enjoy a world-class program in their quest to become a new generation of Philadelphia Union homegrown talent.