Philadelphia Union: The Role of Fabian Herbers

Jun 25, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Union midfielder Fabian Herbers (11) in action against the Vancouver Whitecaps at Talen Energy Stadium. The Vancouver Whitecaps won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 25, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Union midfielder Fabian Herbers (11) in action against the Vancouver Whitecaps at Talen Energy Stadium. The Vancouver Whitecaps won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

While CJ Sapong was out with an injury Fabian Herbers was thrust into the starting XI for the Philadelphia Union. As they look to stay in contention in the Eastern Conference he will have a larger role going forward.

In Sunday’s game against the New York Red Bulls, there were a few things that turned the tides for the Philadelphia Union. One of them was Jim Curtin’s masterstroke of subbing on Fabian Herbers in place of Roland Alberg who was having an off night.

While Herbers initially came on in a central attacking spot he quickly had to shift out to the wing when Ilsinho went out with a red card. His versatility in adjusting to the role on the fly after receiving tactical instructions for a different role highlight his value to the team.

After being drafted by the Philadelphia Union out of Crieghton University Forward / Winger Fabian Herbers has seen his role with the team expand as the season has progressed. He started out with being loaned to Bethlehem to get game time then sitting on the bench for the Union. After earning Jim Curtin’s trust, Herbers was elevated to being the first man off the bench.

More from Philadelphia Union

After CJ Sapong went down with an injury during the game on June first Fabian Herbers stepped up and delivered his first MLS goal in a crucial 3-2 win over the Columbus Crew heading into the Copa America break and man was it a beautiful goal. With Sapong going down Herbers was forced into playing more than he or anyone on the Philadelphia Union coaching staff would have expected him to play at this point in the season.

Herbers went on to make three straight starts before succumbing to a hamstring injury of his own. Those starts were a mixed bag for the rookie because while he didn’t play badly it became clear that he isn’t ready to operate on his own as a center forward.

There were numerous bright spots in his game during that extended look, however, mainly his off the ball movement, passing accuracy and general technical skills. This shouldn’t surprise anyone who saw Herbers at Creighton but considering the number of people who watch NCAA Division-1 Soccer (not many) we’ll go into Herbers’ background a bit.

Herbers was born in Born in Ahaus, Germany and bounced around multiple youth clubs spending time at FC Twente, SC Preußen Münster, and VfL Rhede. During that time he was able to learn about the technical aspects of soccer at a young age and it shows in his play when he displays his high soccer IQ. Considering the emphasis that Earnie Stewart places on youth development, the path that Herbers has followed to this point is a textbook Stewart path.

As an added bonus, Herbers credits the Dutch system with developing his play style as he stated in an interview with,

"“The Netherlands is a small country, but a huge soccer country with a great history. The youth development is very good.  I think I probably most developed the technical skill to pass the ball, everything with the ball – not the physical, athletic stuff.”"

In the same interview, Herbers also touched on his attacking style saying,

"“I’m an attacking player for sure. I like holding the ball, making runs off the ball. I like to give the final pass. I have a lot of assists, but I also like scoring a lot. I have a lot of speed too; I’m a good finisher and good at set pieces.”"

That attacking style has played major dividends for the Philadelphia Union this season as they’ve brought Herbers on as a pseudo second striker and as a winger. In the game against NYRB, the introduction of Herbers is what changed the tide in the Union’s favor. He was able to register an assist on Chris Pontius’ goal.

Even more special in the build up to that goal was that the hockey assist came from fellow rookie Keegan Rosenberry. Rookies have been huge for the Philadelphia Union this season with Herbers, Rosenberry, Josh Yaro and Ken Tribbett all seeing significant minutes this season but Herbers may end up having the biggest impact going forward.

Speaking on Rosenberry’s contribution to his goal, here’s what Herbers had to say post game,

"I saw that they were pressing very high, and that we needed runs in behind, and I was trying to do that. Yeah, I got a couple of good passes from Keegan [Rosenberry], which led to the goal, as well. So, yeah, I tried to get some energy into the game and make the defense chase us, and I think that worked pretty well today."

When he comes on as a substitute he’s almost like a sparkplug for the team due to his passing and runs. He can unlock a defense in a way that most people on the team outside of Ilsinho can thanks to his technical skill. As far as rookie strikers go, I had Herbers pegged as a better prospect than Jordan Morris and I stand by that currently.

Next: Ilsinho is Rounding into Form

Morris is a guy that gets by with his speed while Herbers needs technical skill to find space. That skill will help Herbers in the future with the Philadelphia Union once he fully adjusts to the league. He’s made huge strides since the start of the season and finds himself in a pivotal role for the Philadelphia Union.

With CJ Sapong back, Herbers is able to slide back into a more comfortable role as an impact sub. In that role, he is used as Jim Curtin’s not so secret weapon to unlock opposing defenses and the early returns are pretty good for the Philadelphia Union. If he can keep this up it will be fun to watch the Union terrorize opposing defenses at the end of games to snatch points in matches that would have been defeats in prior years. These young rookies are fun to watch but watching Herbers grow before our eyes is a wonderful thing.