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Who We Were (Part 1): Gilberto

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A player who unfortunately fell through the cracks of a rebuilding phase in Toronto.

Toronto FC v Sporting Kansas City Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Throughout this long off-season I want to look back on some of Toronto FC’s former players to see what impact they had on their team, determining how successful their stay in Toronto was — or, perhaps, what needed to be different?

At the end of the 2013 regular season, Toronto FC finished third-last in the league, and were tied for the the second-worst offence in the league. They needed an offensive shakeup, so they went into the transfer market in the off-season in search of some quality offensive players — Designated Player quality.

Very quickly, they found one of their guys. On December 13, 2013 Toronto FC officially announced the signing of 24-year-old Gilberto Oliveira Souza Júnior, for a reported transfer fee of over $3 million CAD, while he rejected bigger offers from teams in Mexico and Germany. I believe this was because he thought he might be able to do better with Toronto FC as opposed to teams in other leagues. Unfortunately for him, his signing was soon ‘overshadowed’ by the signings of Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley, which were announced in January 2014.

Let’s be honest here: Gilberto did not start off well in Toronto. There was growing pressure on Gilberto as game after game he didn’t score, and the fans were beginning to wonder if he was going to work out at all. But then Gilberto came on to play against New York Red Bulls off the bench, and there was a free kick to take just outside the box. Jermain Defoe grabbed the ball to take the set piece, as he’d been taking them for much of the year, but Gilberto took the ball out of his hand, angering Defoe.

At this point, I thought that this could be a sign of things to come with problems between Gilberto and Defoe in the locker room; I thought if he missed this free kick it might be the end of his career at BMO Field. Then he took the shot, and scored! It wasn’t just any free kick goal, this competes with some of Giovinco’s best free kick goals.

Just before you watch the goal here, make sure you watch closely, because he kicks the ball so hard and so fast you can barely see it move before it’s in the back of the net.

From that day, June 27, 2014, his career started to lift off with the Reds. The next 19 games for Gilberto, he scored seven goals and collected five assists even though his strike partner Defoe was gone for around a third of the season, especially toward the end of the year — which was when Gilberto’s career started to take a turn. Although he didn’t score the flashiest goals overall besides that free kick, he really put his full effort in on the pitch, and began to finish more accurately over the course of the season. I found he was pretty good at making runs in the box and getting on the end of through passes and crosses to make a simple finish. Overall, he looked like he was becoming the player that the Reds wanted him to be.

But after a disappointing 2014 season for the club, GM Tim Bezbatchenko decided to rebuild the team once again, at the expense of many players, including Gilberto. Although Jermain Defoe was moved to Sunderland over the winter, the additions of new DP signings Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco made it so that there was no more DP spots left for Gilberto (with Bradley holding onto the third). Even if there was a way to include him on the roster, he still may have been moved just because I don’t think it would be the smartest to have three high-paid players up front with obvious holes in other parts of the team. Anyway, Gilberto moved back to Brazil on loan to Vasco da Gama, where he scored some goals, but he eventually became a backup once a new manager came in later on. So his loan was eventually terminated because of that.

Toronto FC v Sporting Kansas City Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

At that point, once his loan was terminated in July 2015, he had to be waived immediately because he could not be registered within the MLS salary cap guidelines. That’s why Gilberto went to the Chicago Fire. He did fairly well in his first (half) season with the Fire; he scored five goals in 10 games with a team that finished rock-bottom in the league. In 2016, he didn’t do too well, though, because he scored no goals in nine games until he mutually terminated his contract with the club on June 29, 2016.

Since then he’s moved on to clubs in Brazil and Turkey, and currently plays at the age of 29 with Bahia in Brazil.

To be honest, I think he could’ve become a decent striker for our money for years to come, if TFC had just given him another year. But they didn’t. The front office was getting pretty desperate to sate the fans with their first playoff run, at the expense of losing potential talent that could’ve really helped out with the long-term success of the club.

Unfortunately though, it didn’t matter what Gilberto could’ve been as the TFC fanbase was anxious enough to become a half-decent team in MLS for the first time. It would’ve been nice if Gilberto had had a better first season, because he may have still been playing in Toronto if he’d added a few more goals to his tally.

It’s certainly interesting though to see how he’s kicked on since he’s left TFC, though. What’s your fondest memory of Gilberto’s time in Toronto? Do you wish things had ended differently?