Finally adjusted to life in MLS, Toronto FC's Gilberto insists he's just getting started

TORONTO – Toronto FC’s Brazilian striker Gilberto gave reporters two big thumbs up on a hot Tuesday afternoon, referring to the sun beating down on the training field ahead of Saturday’s match against the New England Revolution (5 pm ET; MLS Live). 

The sunshine and heat, so rare in Toronto, felt like home for Gilberto, now so many miles away. 

It took the better part of the season for Gilberto to find himself in Major League Soccer, featuring in 10 games before he scored his first goal as he worked to overcome nagging injuries. But, now recovered, he has netted six times in his last 10 appearances, scoring in four consecutive matches, including his first at BMO Field in Saturday’s 2-2 draw with the Chicago Fire. 

“Oh, it was long overdue,” Gilberto told reporters via translator at training. “I feel like I owed it to the fans to give them something back for all the support they’ve given me throughout the season. It’s good as well for the group to give something back to the group for all the hard work.”

His fans – there are now plenty – have taken to calling him Goalberto, and his influence and skill is beginning to turn heads in MLS. But, Gilberto said, he still has more in the tank for Toronto FC. 

“I don’t know if I’m at 100 percent yet because there’s always room to grow within my game,” Gilberto said. “But my communication with the team is getting better now. We’re able to play easier now together because we’re able to communicate.”

Gilberto is still learning English, offering a friendly “good afternoon” or “how are you?” any chance he can. But the language isn’t the only adjustment Gilberto had to make; the Brazilian striker noted that he had to change his game to play effectively in MLS. 

“The style in play in Brazil is a lot different than here,” Gilberto said. “There’s nothing really that’s missing in this league, it’s just a different style of play here.

“If you look at the American national team at the World Cup, they were one of the best teams defensively,” Gilberto continued. “I feel like the difference is, yes, physical, but as well, mentally, the mindset there in Brazil is that the attackers attack, they don’t defend. But the global game is changing now, where attackers have to come back and defend. That’s the major difference, we just have one specific role, the attackers, to score goals and attack. But in the other leagues in the world, they’re playing multiple roles and coming back.”

That change in mentality has seen Gilberto slowly flourish in Toronto red, and he said that his shift to more physical, well-rounded brand of football is something that his compatriots in Brazil can learn from, too. 

“If you look at world football now, that’s the way the game is going,” Gilberto said. “A lot of the big names at the World Cup, [Arjen] Robben, Neymar, [Lionel] Messi, they’re all coming back and helping their team defensively as well as offensively. That’s something I need to get used to here, as the global game transforms as well – not just here, but in Brazil and globally.”