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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Friday, August 9, 2013

A(nother) Brazilian in Philly: Gilberto's role in 2013 and beyond

With the return to health by several pieces of its midfield, the Philadelphia Union face a selection conundrum in the coming games, especially with regard to their central midfielders.

If there’s any solace to take in that jumble, it’s that at least their newest signing isn’t among the logjam.

Union manager John Hackworth wouldn’t come out and say at his weekly press conference Thursday that new Brazilian acquisition Gilberto wouldn’t play a role in the Union’s quest for a playoff berth in 2013, but he at least strongly hinted that was the case in detailing the approach for the 6-2 midfielder.

“We’re happy that he’s here. He is a good summer acquisition for us,” Hackworth said. “But this is a move that we’re looking a little more long-term than an immediate need. … We’re going to give Gilberto time to acclimatize in all ways to our club, to our program. We don’t feel like we’re in a desperate situation at all. We don’t feel like we need immediate help, and therefore I think that gives us a little bit more time to be patient with Gilberto and allow him to come to our club.”

Part of the issue is that Gilberto is short on game fitness due to the differences in the Brazilian and American soccer calendars. It would take time to get him up to speed with his teammates much less MLS as a whole, and that commodity – time – is one of the few on which the Union’s midfield is short.

So a gamechanger in the playoff race, Gilberto isn’t. But one day, it’s possible that he could provide a different dimension to the Union midfield.

“He’s good at holding and moving the ball from side to side, and hopefully as he gets more comfortable with his teammates and his fitness level, he’s able to incorporate some of that forward momentum and forward thinking that can help this club out,” Union captain Brian Carroll said. “… He’s kind of that taller, lean, strong kind of guy. The longer he’s with us, the better he’ll get, and hopefully the sooner the better.”

On paper, it looks as though Gilberto would provide a natural replacement for someone like Carroll, you know in that “long-term” Hackworth discussed. But the plan at this juncture is to have Gilberto represent a more playmaking type of central midfielder, like the many players vying already to pair with the 32-year-old Carroll in the center of the pitch.

“Brian is our captain, so there’s never a thought that this is somebody who would come in and replace Brian,” Hackworth said. “Could he complement him? Absolutely. He is a player that has great size, great athleticism, good work rate, good technically, so he brings a lot of qualities as a midfielder, but we have guys in the locker room that are like that as well. It’s a little bit complicated for us to rationalize all the reasons why we brought him here, and we want to give him some time to see where we see him fitting in. I would just say that this is a chance we couldn’t pass up, and this is a long-term move for us.”

Even before the transfer window officially closed, Hackworth acknowledged that the addition of Gilberto had effectively closed it for the Union, based on a variety of factors. If that’s the case, Hackworth doesn’t have many complaints about the window which has also netted goalkeeper Oka Nikolov and an instant contributor in Fabinho.

“I’m very happy with it,” Hackworth said. “You look at the three guys we brought in, and we feel really good about those guys. Oka’s been really good, Fabinho’s contributed already. And we have Gilberto who we’re very happy with and felt like it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up … Right now, we’re pretty set on our roster and feel comfortable with the guys we have in our locker room.”

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