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Can Gilberto's First Season be Chalked up to Adjustment Period?

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Gilberto was the first to admit that he didn't get 20 goals in his first MLS season, he didn't even hit 10. But MLS hasn't always been the most welcoming environment for Designated Players, and those who succeed tend to do it after learning the ins and out of the league.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Editorial Note: Please welcome Spencer Snell (Sven87) Waking The Red's latest writer. You may recognize him from his fanposts and consistent commenting at the site. He has now joined the staff, and we are thrilled to have him aboard. During the offseason he will be writing columns on the value of the team's players, and statistical analysis of their seasons. This will be different from the well known "Top 30" series the site will be debuting later this week, more on that later. He will also write about TFC transfer rumours.

TFC's season is done. The end-of-season presser has been de-constructed and over-analyzed to death, the Waking The Red awards have been discussed and debated, and now we've all but confirmed that Defoe is leaving (don't let the door...) and Laba isn't returning.

This all begs the question- what more is there that we can possibly write about? Two things come to mind: the annual Toronto-less end of season MLS mini-tournament (sounds a lot less harsh to miss out on than calling it ‘playoffs'), and analyses of how Toronto FC's individual players fared. I'll opt for the latter- as much as I've been enjoying the playoffs, you can get in-depth stories about individual games elsewhere online, but you can only come here for an arbitrary comparison of Gilberto's performance to other designated players' first seasons in MLS.

I'll preface this analysis by explaining that I'm definitely very biased. I personally think that Gilberto's work rate, ability to press defenders, and tireless efforts to make things happen in the final third are commendable, and that he'll only get better with more MLS experience under his belt. I don't want to see him leave TFC, and I think he will be a valuable asset on the squad (part of the ‘core' that we all speak of) for years to come.

That being said, Gilberto didn't quite hit the 20 (or 25, depending on sources) goal mark he set at the beginning of the season. In fact, he didn't even come close, registering only 7 on the season- less than a third of his stated goal. But... this year was his transition year, where he would first have to get used to MLS gameplay and slowly adjust to a different league with a very different pace and physicality level, right? Every DP from a different league comes in and struggles in their first year of competition, before eventually breaking out and showing how much more talent they have than the non-DPs, right?? Right???

With these hopeful thoughts in mind, I went to the numbers. The following is the methodology I used to see if this "adjustment period" was perhaps a real thing- and how Gilberto fared during this adjustment period versus others before him. I took every attacking DP playing this year, but excluded the young DPs and those who have been playing in MLS basically forever (goodbye Wondo and Eddie Johnson). I then also threw in every other attacking DP who started in the league in 2012 (simply because I needed a cut-off point) or later, but is no longer playing in MLS. Also, just to clarify, my definition of attacking DP was essentially attacking mid and/or striker. Here's the list I compiled:

Thierry Henry, Álvaro Saborio, Robbie Keane, Jerry Bengtson (I know... who??), Federico Higuain, Claudio Bieler, Obafemi Martins, Juan Luis Anangonó, Clint Dempsey, Gabriel Torres, Pedro Morales, Fanendo Adi, Ignacio Piatti, Kris Boyd, Hamdi Salihi, Barry Robson, Sherjill MacDonald, Kenny Miller, Marco Di Vaio, Rafael, and of course our very own Jermain Defoe & Gilberto. I removed Frederico Puppo from the list of players, as his first year, where he played less than 250 minutes, is hardly substantial grounds for analysis. That's 22 players altogether-on a side note, isn't it nice to be reminded of some of the absolute busts that OTHER teams invested in??

I then went back to each player's first year in the MLS, to see how they performed in their "adjustment" year. I used a simple statistical analysis, where I averaged out goals per 90 minutes and assists per 90 minutes for each player in their first year in MLS.

I'll be the first to acknowledge this process isn't perfect. Firstly, Gilberto played a significantly greater number of minutes in his first season than most of these players. The average of these 22 players' first season minutes is 1,197 and Gilberto played a whopping 1,955 minutes in 2014. Many will argue that since he had more playing time or time to adjust, he should therefore have become more productive by the end of the season (than other DPs in their shorter first seasons). To be honest, that's totally fair. Another flaw in the process is that I'm only looking at goals and assists. I'm not looking at dribbles per game, pass accuracy, or even shot accuracy. I'm not looking at what kind of service they had- who was on their team, who was getting them the ball, whether they were on playoff-bound teams, etc. That being said, I would assume Gilberto would not have had much of an advantage in terms of quality of service (after all, TFC was not a playoff bound team), but again- it is a valid argument against this methodology.

So what are the results of this little analysis? Gilberto averaged 0.32 goals per 90 minutes and 0.23 assists per 90 minutes. But those numbers in isolation tell us nothing- how does that stack up to the competition I've selected?

Gilberto is 15th out of the 22 DPs in goals per 90 minutes. Not very impressive. The leader in the category was Ignacio Piatti, with 4 goals in a measly 450 minutes (0.8 per game). Tied for second were Robbie Keane and Jermain Defoe, who each scored 0.65 goals for every 90 minutes they were on the field. While 15th place isn't overly impressive, let's look at some of the names that Gilberto outperformed: Clint Dempsey (0.14 goals per game), Kenny Miller (0.25 goals per game), even Thierry Henry (0.21 goals per game). So- as Gilberto acknowledged himself, yes his first season goal tally was disappointing, and he definitely needs to improve in terms of finishing ability- but others had worse first seasons before him and managed to completely turn their game around, so perhaps not all hope is lost.

Now, onto assists. At 0.23 assists per 90 minutes, Gilberto is 8th out of the 22 players. The leader of the category was Federico Higuain with 0.63 assists per 90 minutes, followed by Morales, MacDonald, and Robbie Keane. For what it's worth, Defoe was 16th out of the 22, with only 0.12 assists per game.

Granted, Toronto signed Gilberto to score goals, not assist them. But he has shown that in his first year, his transition year, his adjustment year... he's figured out better than most other attacking ‘stars' in their first year how to set up goals. I, for one, believe he will only get better at helping TFC light up the scoreboard- especially if he's paired with a natural goal-scorer, or at the very least someone who understands how he plays and can complement his style.

Interestingly enough, Gilberto's first season tallies are strikingly (no pun intended) close to Marco Di Vaio's during his first season. While Gilberto averaged 0.32 goals per game, Di Vaio averaged 0.33 in his first year- and their assists per 90 were also similar (Gil: 0.23 MDV: 0.20). To further my hypothesis I also selectively looked at two impressive non-DPs who scored more than 20 goals this season. Dom Dwyer, who scored 22 goals with SKC this past season, scored only 2 goals the season before that (his first) in 674 minutes. That would give him only 0.27 goals per 90 minutes, which is below Gilberto's 0.32. MLS Golden Boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips had only a single goal (and an assist) in 337 minutes of play in his first season. That's also an average of exactly 0.27 goals per 90, and less than Gilberto's first-year rate.

Feel free to draw whatever conclusions you want from this basic, surface analysis of Gilberto's output in his transition year. I, for one, will happily postulate that while Gilberto will likely NOT score 20+ goals next season, his output will surely improve from 2014- his transitional year. From the numbers I analyzed, it does seem that, at the very least, the "adjustment period" is no myth... most players from abroad do NOT impress in their first year in MLS. Gilberto, unfortunately, was no exception to that rule. Could he improve vastly in the next few years, and score goals in droves like BWP and Dom Dwyer? Could he become a better set-up man, a younger, more Brazilian version of Thierry Henry for TFC? Only time will tell- but let's not judge him too soon and get rid of him altogether... or else we could end up seeing another familiar "TO Reject" come back to haunt us.