Clutch is a word that gets thrown around a lot in the sports world. It’s usually used to describe a player that makes the big play when his team desperately needs one. And at this stage of the ongoing MLS season, Gilberto is Toronto FC’s “clutch player.”
When I saw the Brazilian forward’s first five games, I can recollect saying to myself: “Is this the guy TFC wasted a Designated Player spot on?”
As you can tell, I wasn’t impressed by what I saw. Gilberto looked disinterested and out of place. His movement wasn’t the sharpest, his understanding of his teammate was nonexistent and for someone who was coming off a 14-goal season, he lacked confidence in front of goal.
Due to the fact that some forwards coming into MLS for the first time find it difficult to score goals, I wasn’t surprised by his production — or lack of production. I mean look at the league’s current leading scorer, Bradley Wright-Phillips. The New York Red Bulls star wasn’t even a regular starter when he arrived in July, 2013. He only made four regular season starts and scored one goal. That’s 17 goals less than his current tally in 2014.
To be fair to Gilberto, he joined Toronto while they were trying to transition from a bottom-dweller to a MLS Cup contender. The Brazilian, Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley were brought in to lead the club into the playoffs.
Since their arrival, Bradley and Defoe have stolen the spotlight, leaving Gilberto to be an unrecognized stunt double.
But the 25-year-old is tired of being overshadowed, and he is slowing making a name for himself by doing what landing him the big money contract with Toronto; scoring goals. His goals are so important because they could be the ones that earns TFC a playoff spot in the tightly-contested Eastern Conference.
The Brazilian has managed to score on the road against four Eastern Conference foes and TFC didn’t lose any of those games.
First, he rifled this stunning free kick past Luis Robles, helping Toronto pick up a valuable point against New York. And then he went on to score against Houston Dynamo, Montreal Impact and Columbus Crew. Because of his sudden offensive outburst, Toronto picked up eight huge points against conference rivals and are currently occupying third place in the east, with one game in hand.
Now that Gilberto has finally found his scoring touch in MLS, Ryan Nelsen has multiple options up top. Even though Defoe is out injured, the second year manager will be delighted to see that he has three (Luke Moore, Bright Dike and Gilberto) potential starting forwards – four if you count Dwayne De Rosario – at his disposal.
Moore, previously played in the English Premier League with Swansea City, has settled in well in Canada, scoring five goals in just 14 appearances. The 28-year-old has excelled alongside Defoe and Gilberto, and he’s also shown that he has a knack for popping up at the right place, at the right time.
Dike looks ready to make his return after suffering an injury in February. Although he is 27-years-old, the Nigerian international hasn’t quite made a lasting impact in MLS. Injuries have impaired his success, but when he’s healthy, he is one of the toughest and determined forwards in the league.
Gilberto’s sudden productivity comes at the right time because when it’s combined with Defoe’s eminence and Nelsen’s depth at the forward position, Toronto has the firepower to propel themselves into the playoffs.
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