In Toronto, Gilberto Oliveira Souza Junior was simply known as Gilberto, just as his time in Toronto can be defined by one word: wildcard. He was the first of the three designated players Toronto FC brought in last off season, and significantly less iconic or recognized than Michael Bradley or Jermain Defoe. All that most knew about the player was that he had scored well in the Brazilian league and was praised immensely by Toronto management.
When the 2014 season started, it was a long time before Gilberto was able to get out of the shadow of his English teammate, Defoe. After missing the opening triumph against the Seattle Sounders, the Brazilian was marginally impressive in a 1-0 home opener win over DC United. When he did eventually emerge from the shadows, it was for the wrong reasons: while there was no question Gilberto was giving a solid effort, time and time again he was unable to find the back of the net.
This was when Toronto fans created the name "old gill", a name that sadly alluded more to his growing number of shocking misses than his tireless effort to make one of them find the back of the net. During this time, while the rest of the team was finding success, many called for him to be moved so that the club could make proper use of the designated player spot.
It took Gilberto 10 games to score for Toronto FC, and when he did the goal was perfectly indicative of his status as team wildcard. After Toronto won a free kick in a dangerous area against the New York Red Bulls, both Gilberto and Defoe stood over the ball looking to take the free kick. After a shoving match, Gilberto took the ball and rocketed it into the top corner. The look of disbelief on the face of Defoe was priceless, and one of the more positive memories of the season.
After not scoring in his first 9 games, Gilberto would score 7, and add three assists, in his next 19. In August he was one of the league’s hottest strikers, scoring in four straight games against the Montreal Impact, Columbus Crew, Sporting Kansas City and the Chicago Fire.
This run of form led his nickname to transform from "old gill" to the far more positive title of "golberto". As the season wore on he would swap between the two, depending upon whether he had a positive or negative performance. In the process, however, he became one of the most beloved players around Toronto, and one that most hoped the club would retain.
One of the reasons was Gilberto’s comical personality. He became known for his bizarre goal celebrations, and excellent post match interviews. After a 2-1 loss to Sporting KC in which he was fouled repeatedly without the referee’s whistle, he said that he believed MLS was trying to conform him to their style of soccer. He was quick to say that he would not roll over.
By the time the final whistle sounded on the 2014 MLS season, Gilberto had gone from one of the club’s most disliked players to one that supporters believed they could not do without. While the scoring wasn’t always presents, the creativity, talent, and effort at both ends of the field compensated.
The offseason in Toronto can change a story quickly, however, as it has done especially of late. When Jozy Altidore was brought in the writing on the wall for Gilberto had already started. With the team’s need of a number 10, there was no real need for two number 9s.
When that number 10 did arrive, in the form of Sebastian Giovinco, the same fate had befallen Gilberto as Matias Laba the offseason prior: the odd man out with all the talented incoming designated players. Toronto, smartly, did not appear ready to risk whether or not the league would add a fourth designated player spot in the new CBA.
For a while it was suggested that Toronto could use allocation money to keep the Brazilian in town. The signings of Damien Perquis and Benoit Cheyrou quickly put an end to such discussions, and it was suggested they never really took place at all.
Yesterday, it was confirmed by the Toronto Star that Gilberto would be leaving town on a long awaited loan to Vasco Da Gama, who he had been training with for the majority of the offseason. The deal is officially a loan, but the fact that there is the possibility for purchase at the end makes it less likely that Gilberto will again return to Toronto.
It does mean, however, for at least one more season Gilberto will remain a wild card in Toronto FC’s deck: one foot out the door but not completely out of the conversation just yet.