It's no secret that the Fire have been looking to add some punch to the attack. The roster is thin at the forward position. Kennedy Igboananike has had his moments this season but without David Accam for most of the early going Chicago has looked to their third Designated Player to deliver. So far, Gilberto hasn't done that.
The Brazilian was “claimed” off waivers last July after his Vasco de Gama loan was cut short due to a lack of performance and Toronto FC needed to find a way to remain roster compliant. With a DP trio of Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore there was no longer room for Gilberto and having found themselves at the top of the waiver claim order due to being in last place Chicago jumped at the opportunity to him after failing to land Didier Drogba.
Gilberto got off to quite the start scoring five goals in ten matches for the Men in Red. Hopes were high that a successful South American DP signing had finally graced the grass of Toyota Park. As Chicago enters its ninth match of the 2016 campaign the story is quite different. Gilberto has started and played in six of eight so far, registering just two shots on target and tallying one assist in 488 minutes of play. In comparison, Homegrown rookie Joey Calistri has started one game and played in five of eight, tallying 1 shot on target and one assist in 143 minutes.
He has missed one match due to injury and wasn’t one hundred percent to start Chicago’s midweek encounter with Vancouver. While the statistics listed above may seem pretty damning, the conversation needs to be broadened. Is Gilberto really that bad, has he hit a slump or is he just lacking service? We’ll examine his and the team’s style of play and analyze specific instances of Gilberto on and off the ball to add some constructive context for these important questions.
Style of Play:
Since arriving in Chicago head coach Veljko Paunovic has expressed his desire to play a fast paced, high intensity, and possession based style of play. At times this has been visible with the speedy counters of David Accam and some spells of possession in matches but the style overall has fallen short of the mark. Chicago has been out possessed in five of the six matches that Gilberto has featured in, at times by a wide margin, and has had an average passing completion rate of 72% in those matches. By comparison their opponents have average 78% pass completion and not all of them tout a style that focuses on keeping the ball moving along the ground.
The fact that Gilberto is being utilized as a lone striker seems to add a sense of justification to a lack of production. If his team is not in possession and they often fall short of the mark when it comes to passing you could understand why he might be a) lacking service and b) not finding the net. However, such generalizations do not speak to the entire reality of Gilberto’s performances Let’s take a look with a game by game analysis to see if Gilberto’s lack of service and time on the ball are myths or not.
Home vs. DC United: Gilberto found himself on the ball plenty of times. He played all 90 minutes, had nine successfully completed passes, twelve unsuccessful passes, one successful dribble sequence, two unsuccessful dribbles, and three shots (none on target). That’s 27 opportunities on the ball. By comparison DC United’s Alvaro Saborio was playing a similar role for his squad and found himself with 32 opportunities on the ball. Again, DC had the edge in possession so that needs to be considered here. Of the 27 times that Gilberto was on the ball, 18 of them occurred in the final third of the pitch meaning that he wasn’t drawn into the midfield or his own half which might otherwise excused a lack of production. Furthermore, his decision making seemed suspect with two hopeful shots from distance, a collection of unsuccessful through balls and just downright awful short passes that completely missed their mark. Could he have had more service? Certainly. Was he productive with the service he did get? Definitely not.
Home vs. Montreal: Gilberto played the full 90 against the Impact as well. In that time he managed to string together sixteen successful passes (one was an assist on Igboananike’s goal), four unsuccessful passes, no successful dribble sequences, one unsuccessful dribble, no shots. That’s 21 opportunities on the ball. For those who might argue that indicates a lack of service they might be right. However, if you look at their opponent’s starting lone striker, Dominic Oduro, there is an interesting comparison. He attempted nineteen passes and completed them all (two of which were assists), had two unsuccessful dribble sequences, and two off target shots. At 22 opportunities on the ball that is just one more than Gilberto with arguably better production, not to mention that Oduro is doing it for $250k a year while Gilberto finds himself at $1,144,992. Throwing his hands up in frustration rather than drawing closer to midfield and asking for the ball won’t help his case in this match either.
Home vs. Philadelphia: In one of his best statistical performances of the season Gilberto played the entire match and had eighteen successful passes, seven unsuccessful passes, one unsuccessful dribble sequence, two off shots off target and one blocked shot, a total of 29 opportunities on the ball. All of his shot attempts were once again taken from outside of the box which raises another interesting question: why is he not taking his defenders on? Seeing confidence on the ball from a DP striker is a must and gathering the ball and spraying shots from distance had both fans and Veljko Paunovic visibly frustrated.
Away vs. NYCFC: While Lampson’s heroics kept Chicago in the match on one end Gilberto was being his consistent self on the other end with thirteen successful passes, six unsuccessful passes, three blocked shots (you guessed it, all from outside the box), no successful dribble sequences and one unsuccessful dribble sequence. 23 total opportunities on the ball with twelve of them in the final third. By comparison Patrick Mullins lined up centrally in New York’s three man front line and managed just 15 touches but had a better pass completion percentage and was responsible for more key passes than Gilberto. Again, if you’d like to hide behind the “lack of service” argument then you may certainly do so but there are examples of players doing more with less. Some have touted the “he’s playing to deep” argument, but that doesn’t hold up in this match either. Over half of Gilberto’s touches came in the attacking third and only three touches came in his own half.
Home vs. Columbus: In what was a hard fought 0-0 draw Gilberto was responsible for six successful passes, seven unsuccessful passes, two successful dribble sequences, four unsuccessful dribbles, one shot on target (outside of the box), and one blocked shot. That’s 21 total opportunities on the ball. Columbus had an edge in possession and their target striker Kei Kamara found himself on the ball 27 times. Both forwards’ impact was limited; however, Gilberto ventured into his own half just once to collect the ball and create while Kamara tracked back and made seven successful passes in his own half, clearly two different approaches in the face of frustration.
Home vs. NYCFC: On the surface Gilberto’s statistics from the home opener are slightly skewed due to the fact that he was taken off at half time but upon closer examination they seem to fit the norm of the season. He completed all five of his pass attempts, completed two successful dribble sequences, had one unsuccessful dribble, registered one shot on target, had one shot miss the mark and had a third shot blocked. With eleven opportunities on the ball in 45 minutes he was on course for his eventual average of 25 opportunities on the ball per 90 minutes.
We think it is pretty clear cut when it comes to the question of Gilberto. It isn’t a lack of service, inadequate time on the ball, or a slump. He just hasn’t been very good. With a pass completion rate of under 67%, a 60% failure rate on his dribble attempts, and a 14% SOG success rate the numbers speak for themselves. With just seven recoveries on the season Gilberto’s time on the ball isn’t being created by him personally, he is receiving the ball from teammates more than other target strikers in the league. His inability to keep the ball rolling through passing or dribbling, his tendency to waste buildup opportunities with speculative shots from distance, and his attitude in recent matches really beg a further question of his continuous starts (we realizes it’s slim pickings but that’s a conversation for another time).
Our analysis also seems to indicate that his heat map shows his possession and positioning tend to occur in the final attacking third by an overwhelming majority. Meaning, that if he were to track back and show for the ball more frequently like the likes of Kamara, Cyle Larin, or CJ Sapong then his productivity might slightly improve. The fact that he doesn’t do so speaks volume as to his work rate and motivation.
Is it possible that the Fire have another failed South American DP on their hands?