PORTLAND, Ore. – For the Timbers, Monday's acquisition of defender Kerrea Gilbert – an ex-youth product of legendary English club Arsenal – follows Portland’s pattern for developing their first-year MLS roster. Much like the four players introduced last week, Gilbert is young but already has high-level experience.
“We’re fortunate in that he’s young, he’s at the start of his career,” Timbers coach John Spencer told MLSsoccer.com of the 23-year-old. “We’re looking to build a team we can have for a number of years.”
What sets Gilbert apart is that he has played in the Premier League. A native of Greater London, Gilbert joined Arsenal’s youth side in 2003 at the age of 16. Two years later, he made his debut with the first team in a Carling Cup match. Elevated to fill in for injured players, he played in nine games, including connecting with Arsenal great Thierry Henry for an assist — surely one of his career highlights.
In the years since, he was frequently sent on loan in order to earn more playing time, including stints with Cardiff City, Southend United and Leicester City. After returning to Arsenal for part of the 2009-10 season, he went on loan again to Peterborough United before being released in June.
Gilbert visited Portland a couple of months ago to investigate the possibility of joining MLS, and Spencer said the young defender had grown frustrated at being loaned out over and over again.
[inline_node:324862]“He came out to get a look at us,” Spencer said. “I think he had a great time. ... The kid played a number of games at various clubs. When you are with an organization like Arsenal, it’s very difficult to get a chance to play. It’s a great assignment for us.”
Spencer said the adjustment from England to MLS isn’t for every player. Some struggle with the travel and the broad spectrum of playing conditions.
“Foreign players, when they come to MLS, have to have lots of ducks in a row,” Spencer said. “They have to come in with a good attitude and an open mind.”
For Gilbert, the move amounts to a fresh start.
“No doubt, this is a good challenge and a good place to get himself going again,” Spencer said.
Gilbert brings an impressive skill set to Portland. He can play the right or left back positions and has the speed to cover ground and move up and join the offensive attack.
The Timbers are building a solid foundation with defenders. Over the coming weeks, Spencer expects to name more players that will balance things out. So far, the team has only two forwards: Eddie Johnson and Bright Dike, who were among the first four players signed by the team on Oct. 19.
“We’re asking for a little patience,” Spencer said. “If we were playing our first game this week, we’d be in some trouble. Fortunately, we’re not playing this week. Rome wasn't built in a day.”