On location: Gilberto makes his return

GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador - It has been almost 48 hours since the MetroStars arrived at the Ciudad Deportiva Carlos Perez Perasso in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and it is safe to say that the team has settled in nicely. In addition to the team getting comfortable, at around 10 p.m. ET Thursday night, the final returning MetroStar, Gilberto, joined the team, thus bringing all the returning players together for the first time this year.

"I am very happy to be back with my teammates," said Gilberto. "I am really looking forward to this season, and I am going to work as hard as I can to make sure that I am ready to play when the season starts."

Last season was one of ups-and-downs for Gilberto, as first he struggled to earn playing time. Then almost as quickly as he emerged as a force on the field, he was forced off it when injured on June 26 in a game against the New England Revolution. This injury forced Gilberto to undergo surgery on July 1 to repair a ruptured torn posterior tibial tendon in his left ankle.

"It was a very hard time for me personally when that injury happened last season. I hope that was the first and last time I have to go through anything like that," said Gilberto.

After working to rehab in a short amount of time, Gilberto returned to action against the Dallas Burn (now FC Dallas) on September 25 in impressive fashion, and helped the MetroStars clinch their second consecutive playoff berth. Overall, he started and appeared in seven games in 2004, recording one assist. But what the statistics show do not show was his defensive tenacity in the midfield.

"I wasn't 100% when I came back to play last season, but I felt that the team needed me," mentioned Gilberto. "I tried to do the best that I could to help the team."

This offseason Gilberto headed back to Brazil to spend time with his family and to rest. He enjoyed the time that he spent at home, and he also took advantage of some time playing with his local club. Now he is with the "Red and Black" and focused on the goals that he has set for the 2005 season.

"Personally I want to start and play every minute of every game this season," said Gilberto. "With the team, I think that we have a very good base of players here. We will be working hard together to reach our goal, which is a championship."

Notes from training

Practice: Morning practice on Friday was more running for the Metros. The team spent the majority of the practice working on fitness training. Towards the end of the session, the soccer balls were broken out for the first time of the trip and the squad played 20 minutes of small-sided games. The afternoon session will be more focused on playing and less fitness intensive.

Game schedule more clear: The MetroStars first game of the Ecuador trip will be on Tuesday, when they make the three and a half hour trip to Machala to take on Emelec at 7 p.m. The team will then spend the night in Machala before returning to Guayaquil on Wednesday.

On Thursday, the team will then make the three-hour trek to Quevedo to take on Deportivo Quevedo at 4 p.m. ET. The team will return to the facility in Guayaquil that night.

The third and final game of the trip is still to be determined.

Ping pong: After Thursday's table tennis update hit the internet, MetroStars second year players Zach Wells and Michael Bradley became upset. They felt that Chris Leitch had unjustly been named as the best ping pong player on the club. responded by saying the post named Chris Leitch as merely the "frontrunner" and made no mention of him as the "best ping pong player on the club."

After much debate, a tournament was set up and the winner was goalkeeper invitee Mike Ueltschey. There was more controversy however, as Wells did not participate in the tournament.

"I can't speak about the results of the tournament, because I wasn't there when it took place," said Wells. "All I can say is that I beat Jeff Parke five times in a row last night, I am even on games with Michael Bradley 4-4, and I beat Chris Leitch once. I have never had a chance with Mike Ueltschey."

Chris Leitch responded to the claim with vigor. "By the end of the two weeks down here, I will erase any doubts of who the best ping pong player is."

Ecuadorian quick fact of the day: Ecuador's territorial size is comparable to that of Nevada's.