Friday, January 3, 2014

RNO: Gilberto's arrival signals not just personnel change for TFC

Gilberto's arrival signals not just personnel change for TFC
Canadian Men's National Team

Posted by Aaron Nielsen,
December 16, 2013
Aaron Nielsen

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With regards to Brazilian soccer players, Gilberto is a quite common name, so in my database of players Toronto's new signing goes by Gilberto Oliveria. To be honest, prior to a month during this season's Brasileiro he was a virtual unknown, even for people who follow the game closely in Brazil. It started off with 40 metre goal against Nautico that we all have probably seen now, then he had a first half hat-trick in 31 minutes against Corinthians and finally capped it off scoring both goals in a 2-0 win over one of the most well known Brazilian club, Santos. While goals don't make a player, it does bring one attention and I added Gilberto to my list of potential prospects, a list I put together for all leagues I cover statistically.
Brazil has tried to follow a traditional soccer league by making the Brasileiro the main competition. However, teams still play in their state championship, Brazilian cup competition, the South American tournaments Copa Libertadores and Copa Sud America, and a club can play up to 80 games a season. This means it's difficult to judge quality of play due to a lack of consistency, which this season even included last years champion Fluminense finishing in relegation. At the same time, since Brazil is such a recruiting hot spot for players, there is great access to data on how a player has performed. Myself, I have been doing Brasileiro statistics since its beginning in 2003, as well as Serie B data, which can give us a better idea of what to expect than the traditional five minute promo video.
Gilberto came to the Brasileiro as an Internacional player in 2011 and was used a late sub including the club's 2012 Copa Libertadores before being loaned out to Sport Recife. Recife were a newly promoted side and soon relegated with Gilberto scoring 7 goals on 45 shots (23 on target) in only 1375 minutes. This season he was loaned out to Portuguesa scoring 14 goals (tied for 6th), 73 shots (33 on target) in 1793 minutes. Gilberto is a goal poacher and not afraid to shoot and if he can do the same in MLS he will score goals. The concerns arise regarding how he plays with the rest of the offense, which shows some worrying numbers as he only tallied one assist, has a 73% passing percentage, 2 turnovers a game, and a disciplinary record of 44 fouls and 8 yellow cards.
Add the fact TFC's other new signing Jackson only had 71% passing percentage in 2013, 2 turnovers a game and 43 missed shots, as well as disciplinary issues. I'm afraid to say they are not a great improvement to Toronto's 46.3% possession, 73.8% passing percentage, and 64 yellow/6 red cards - some of the worse numbers in the league. So the question becomes, can Gilberto get the opportunities to score his goals, and if not is he any better than Robert Earnshaw who had better passing stats, less turnovers, a similar shooting percentage and produced for TFC 8 goals for 1/10th the cost?
As well, Toronto FC doesn't initially give the impression that they are changing tactics, so you have ask yourself what are the expectations of the club this season and how will the club develop? Personally, counter to anyone's view, for me 2014 is an addition to the rebuilding season with the defense being young, coach tactically naive who will make mistakes, and not at the overall caliber of other top teams in the league. I have concerns for the goalkeeping as well, as one advantage Toronto had last year is teams had a lot more information about Stefan Frei than Joe Bendik and now that Bendik is the number one will teams try to exploit his weaknesses? 
Offensively the partnership of Gilberto and Dike up front (at least until Jermain Defoe is officially announced, but truthfully questions remain) has potential but I have concerns over both players being able hold up the ball to create offense. Right now the midfield will rely on Matias Laba defensively, and Alvaro Rey, Jonathan Osorio, and Jackson each having ball skills but none being outright playmakers. TFC will most likely play a counter attacking style with a lot of long shots and individual plays, which coincidentally is the skill set of former Red and recently made available Dwayne De Rosario. So if the team is truly going for it this season, signing De Rosario might be the smartest move the club can make this off-season.
Alternatively, if Toronto admits they're building this season, trading down in the draft as part of the Convey deal could be an interesting move. This season's draft is defender-heavy, and has goalkeeping prospect Andre Blake and traditional college-based forwards and midfielders. The only player who truly fits a 4-4-2 style of play is Indiana's AJ Corrado, a right midfielder and is known in college for his ability to cross the ball and he's basically, in my view, the 2014 version of Kyle Bekker. Rated higher by some, he could fall to 15th in the draft once GA's are picked, so Toronto could draft him and create a very traditional and maybe effective 4-4-2 midfield with him and Bekker on either side crossing the ball in to create offensive opportunities.
The great part of the off-season is the potential ideas being endless, and best of all the team you support is tied for first. Sports follows a projected model and in the final analysis there are reasons why teams finish where they do and individual players have a lot less of a impact than people believe or think. Gilberto is an interesting signing, although I'm not sure I would pay the rumored cost, but in many ways he is just another guy who will only succeed if given the right opportunity and environment. He also is someone who traditionally played on poor teams, none finishing better than the 10th position needed for an MLS playoff spot.
Toronto FC's season has turned ugly the past few years because expectations have been too high going into the season and vocal fans thinking they know a lot about the game based on very little information. Yes it's cool to have an Argentinian, Spaniard, and now Brazilian, and maybe an Englishman or Italian on your club, but that doesn't mean you are going to be successful. If we were to create a 2013 TFC highlight video, Darel Russell could seem like the club's best player.
I'm not saying my view is perfect either, although hopefully what I provide is a critical step away and hopefully ask the important questions because at the end of the day we all want to see TFC succeed.

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