Toronto FC’s off-season makeover is in full force, with the club continuing to look towards South America for inspiration and reinforcements.
The Major League Soccer franchise officially unveiled Brazilian striker Gilberto as its latest designated player during a Friday press conference at Air Canada Centre. Terms of the deal and the amount of the transfer fee paid to Brazilian club Internacional are not known.
Gilberto, full name Gilberto Oliveira Souza Jr., was recently on loan with Portuguesa from Internacional. The 24-year-old scored 14 goals during the 2013 Brazilian first division season, good enough for sixth in league scoring, and helped Portuguesa finish in 12th place.
Gilberto began his pro career with Santa Cruz, graduating from the team’s youth academy to the senior team. He went on two separate loan spells before moving full time to Internacional in 2011. He’s been on loan at Portuguesa for all of 2013.
Sportsnet soccer columnist Jerrad Peters, a long-time follower of Brazilian soccer, described Gilberto as “a bit of a drifter until finding a home at Portuguesa.”
“At his best he is a pacy forward with good finishing ability, although it's worth pointing out that he was loaned to Portuguesa from Internacional because he couldn't displace the likes of Diego Forlan and Leandro Damiao,” Peters said.
“Despite being 24-years-old, he has played only one full season of top-flight, professional football. That said, he had a breakout season in 2013, and if his form carries into next season he could be a useful addition to Toronto FC. He is not, however, a player I would ever tag the ‘DP’ label onto.”
TFC went to great lengths to woo Gilberto, including having him sit courtside at Tuesday’s Toronto Raptors game alongside Reds coach Ryan Nelsen and Canadian rapper Drake.
The acquisition of Gilberto comes on the heels of three trades earlier this week from TFC, who acquired Brazilian midfielder Jackson from FC Dallas and sent the rights to goalkeeper Stefan Frei to the Seattle Sounders. The team also traded winger Bobby Convey's rights to the New York Red Bulls for draft picks.
The transfer acquisition of Gilberto is the first major move by Tim Bezbatchenko, installed as TFC’s new general manager in September and charged with the task of rebuilding a team that finished the 2013 MLS campaign with a 6-17-11 record and failed to qualify for the playoffs for a seventh consecutive year.
On Tuesday, Bezbatchenko told a small group of reporters during an informal meeting that the club expects to sign at least two more players with MLS experience. He also didn’t rule out bringing back Dwayne De Rosario, who parted ways with D.C. United and is looking to move to another MLS team.
Gilberto's arrival in Toronto does pose an interesting dilemma for the Reds, as they now have two designated players on their roster—Argentine midfielder Matias Laba is the other. The team has been pursuing English striker Jermain Defoe and Italian Alberto Gilardino, but with only one open DP roster slot, they can’t sign both.
The fact that the Reds are trying to sign new strikers hardly comes as a surprise. Scoring has been a major problem for Toronto since it entered the league in 2007, and last season it scored just 30 goals in 34 league games—tied for second-worst offensive record in the 19-team league.
With out-of-contract Danny Koevermans gone and Welshman Robert Earnshaw possibly not returning in 2014, the only forwards currently on the roster are youngsters Bright Dike, Andrew Wiedeman and Emery Welshman, who combined for three goals in 22 games in 2013.
With that in mind, the onus is on the Reds—now more than ever—to secure quality forwards this off-season to revitalize their floundering attack.