Poor Ol' Gil
Signed on December 13 back in 2013, the then largely unknown Gilberto was the first of the trio of shiny new Designated Players, joined by Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley in January.
His acquisition marked a continued change in Toronto's talent scouting efforts, joining Matias Laba as a South American import – a region long considered vital to success in MLS in terms of finding that desperately needed value for money in a salary cap league. In the past, TFC were far too limited in their scope when hunting for talent; by making Gilberto the first of a new crop of stars, the Toronto braintrust were committing to the idea of doing things a little different than previous, failed administrations.
A native Piranhas, Brazil – which is awesome – Gilberto embodied an interesting mix of talents, skillful as one would expect of a Brazilian, but equally sturdy, a necessity in MLS. He quickly earned the admiration of the home fans as a fierce competitor, up for the physical battle and seldom staying down, despite the innumerable challenges he would suffer over the course of the season. As time wore on however, frustration and minor injuries would build up, seeing him prone a little more often than his introductory period.
The striker would battle form and fitness all season long, starting just 21 of 34 league matches and figuring in a further seven from the bench. After a slow start, he would eventually score seven goals and register five assists in the league through 2014.
Held goal-less through his first nine appearances and losing his starting position to in-season addition Luke Moore, Gilberto would announce himself with a thunderous free-kick against New York in the twelfth game of the season, marking his first goal with a memorable and awesome strike. When it comes to introducing oneself to the scoresheet, Gilberto's rocket could easily be considered the best opening goal from a TFC player ever, dissuading (forcefully so) Defoe off a dead-ball look - in a rather unseemly spat - before smashing his finish past a helpless Luis Robles:
The celebrations afterwards, and that smile on Defoe's face, were almost as good as the strike itself – it was a smile that sadly would rarely be seen again.
The duck broken, Gilberto would add a second of the season some three weeks later in Houston with a predatory finish, something disappointingly that was not seen enough, finding a few yards of space at the top of the box to get off a low drive that beat Tally Hall in a wild 2-2 draw.
With the advent of August, the Brazilian would find his footing, registering goals in four straight matches – away to Montreal, Columbus, and Kansas City, before stretching his streak with a home goal against Chicago; that streak fell just one short of tying the all-time club record of scoring in five-straight matches, jointly held by both Dwayne De Rosario and Danny Koevermans.
The goal against Montreal was another example of that predatory nature in the box, stepping off the back-line pressure to find a pocket of space at the top of the box before smashing a shot past Troy Perkins. It was a rare example of a purposeful build up from TFC, who too often were tripped up by their own overcomplexity.
In Columbus, another quick finish, latching onto a ball down the left-side of the area to send a low drive across Steve Clark. His strike against Chicago two weeks on showed two further assets to his game, holding up a long clearance and touching to Luke Moore, before blistering past the stagnant Fire defenses to round Sean Johnson and tuck in a tidy finish:
But it was perhaps the goal in-between those last two that was the most enjoyable, getting a delightful flick on a Dominic Oduro ball to touch past the Sporting KC keeper, though it came in a losing effort.
Gilberto's final goal of the season would come on September 9, against Chivas USA, a match in which he also collected an assist, popping up at the back-post to finish high into the net in a Toronto rout.
Over the course of the season, Gil proved himself a streaky scorer, collecting points in consecutive substitute appearances, then embarking on his four-game scoring streak, before closing out his production with a run of three-games with at least a point, assisting on a De Rosario equalizer against Chicago, grabbing a goal and assist (with a cheeky back-heel touch to Jackson) against Chivas, and then another assist in that cracking come-from-behind win over Portland, getting just enough of a Bradley free-kick to help it on to Nick Hagglund at the back-post.
In fact, he was robbed of a certain game winner in the midst of that last streak, seeing the play whistled back in stoppage-time against Chicago for a phantom foul as he stabbed in a loose ball; perhaps the final turning point of the season: TFC's playoff hopes were all but doomed after that night.
Physical enough to compete with the most hulking of MLS centre-backs, the most common sight as the season wore on was the Brazilian striker pleading for calls, having suffered some rough treatment in his contests with defenders. David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane, and Landon Donovan, fellow DPs, who would regularly get the benefit of an early whistle from the official when the tussle got too intense – Ol' Gil did not receive those same breaks.
Despite the rough treatment he often received, he was always an affable chap, his on-field frustration rarely showing away from the field. Though he seldom made extensive media appearances, English being a difficult lawless language, he was no doubt a positive force in the dressing room, if his persona around the end-of-season interviews is any indication.
If, as rumour would suggest, what with four designated players currently on TFC's books, this is the end of his tenure, he will be remembered fondly. In the pantheon of passed TFC signings, Gil is nowhere near the dregs of that list, and an amicable departure as the club moves in a different direction is hardly something for which the player should be faulted.
Not every signing will work out for the long-term, but if the club can bring in talent and allow them to move on to pastures new without either ill-will or significant financial losses, then they are playing the game of world football transfers well.
He may have only donned the red kit for one yet here in Toronto, but no doubt his tireless effort, matched with an endearing, sardonic smile at the lack of calls he garnered, will be remembered as a positive milestone as TFC looks to evolve from the only team to never make the playoffs to something more.