[MLS] Two English Premier League matches isn't a hefty entry on a player's resume, but the number of matches played by Kerrea Gilbert overseas isn't why Portland coach John Spencer is excited about the Arsenal product coming to MLS.
“We’re fortunate in that he’s young, he’s at the start of his career,” said Spencer to MLSsoccer.com of the 23-year-old. “We’re looking to build a team we can have for a number of years.”
Gilbert, a product of the Arsenal system that also produced MLS players such as Kansas City winger Ryan Smith, has played mostly on loan since making his first-team debut in 2005. He debuted for the first team as a 18-year-old in a Carling Cup match but made only 10 league and cup appearances for the Gunners in the past six seasons while going on loan to Cardiff, Southend, Leicester City and Peterborough.
He fell out of favor two years ago after being arrested for being drunk and disorderly. Arsenal released him last June and among the clubs who have inquired about his services are Blackpool and Colorado, whose head coach, Gary Smith, knows Gilbert from Smith’s stint as a Gunners’ coach and scout.
“Kerrea is somebody I was always very aware of, and he could have been quite a nice addition to our group,” Smith told MLSsoccer.com. “We did start a dialog, but it just didn’t fit. It wasn’t something that financially could fit into the budgets we had, and it wasn’t really a necessity to add another right back when there are other areas that need more attention.”
Gilbert visited Portland earlier this year to research a possible move to the MLS expansion team and Spencer, whose long playing career included time with Premier League clubs Everton and Chelsea, talked up the city, the team, and the league.
“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. No doubt, this is a good challenge and a good place to get himself going again.”
At 5-foot-6, Gilbert is about the same height as Spencer, though he plays both outside back positions and Spencer played up front. Gilbert does, however, have the speed and skills to get into the attack and represents another intriguing piece of the team Spencer and his staff are preparing for their inaugural MLS season.
“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.”