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Red Bulls sign Brazilian striker Fábio Roberto Gomes Netto

23-year-old target man to join New York on loan after stints in Brazilian and Japanese second divisions

Machida Zelvia v Albirex Niigata - J.League Meiji Yasuda J2
Fabio Gomes Netto (center) while playing for Albirex Niigata of the Japanese second division last year
Photo by Masashi Hara/Getty Images

The New York Red Bulls announced the addition of Oeste striker Fábio Roberto Gomes Netto. The 23-year-old Brazilian is joining the club on loan through June of 2021 with an option to buy. He will “occupy an international roster spot.”

According to Globo Esporte, Fábio had interest from “various clubs in Série A and Série B.” NETVASCO names Ponte Preta as one of the pursuing parties. Financial details of the move are not available, but his contract with recently relegated Oeste lasts through the 2023 season. The draw of playing in America intrigued the new father, an obviously preferable option to Série C.

“We’re pleased to welcome Fábio,” head of sport Kevin Thelwell told the club’s official website. “Fábio has a strong physical profile, excellent work ethic, and he’s shown that he can score and assist while playing on his own, and with another forward. We’re happy to add Fábio to our roster and look forward to integrating him into our team.”

Netto spent his youth career with Nacional and Grêmio Osasco before beginning his professional career with Grêmio Audax. In December of 2017, he joined Oeste Futebol Clube, spending 2018 on loan with local outfit Clube Atlético Carlos Renaux. During the 2019 Campeonato Brasileiro Série B season, the São Paulo native finished second in the league’s scoring charts with 15 goals in 32 matches.

His prolific output earned a loan move to Alirex Niigata in the Japanese J2 League. Fábio contributed five goals and three assists in 19 appearances, but suffered from injury issues. In October, he returned to Brazil with a downward-spiraling Oeste following an off-the-field issue in Japan.

This past season was dismal for Rubrão (Big Red). The club was relegated from both Série B and the Campeonato Paulista state league, finishing dead last in both. Despite the ongoing struggles, Fábio was moderately productive with five goals and two assists in 15 appearances.

Manager Gerhard Struber described the new signing as “hard working” and “impressive with his physical play and finishing.” The 6’4” striker fits the ideal physical archetype for the Austrian’s tactics, equally capable of chasing the ball to the corners and finishing crosses in the final third. Fábio is comfortable dribbling at defenders, controlling play with his back to the goal, and shooting from distance. An active, energetic forward could thrive in a vertical attack, but he needs to receive service.

To judge his readiness for MLS and the relative level of Série B, one could compare the recent record of fellow top scorers from the 2019 Brazilian second division in a thoroughly unscientific way. In 2019, Sport Recife forward Guilherme tore up the league with 17 goals, but has struggled to hit a similar level after transferring to Al-Faisaly in the Saudi Professional League. His teammate Hernane thrived in the lower tier but has only scored twice in Série A. Zé Roberto, then of São Bento, was good for 14 goals, but hasn’t repeated the feat in Brazil or the UAE.

This is not to say Fábio is a one-season wonder. At 23 and quite tall, he is of a different makeup than most strikers topping the charts in Série B. There’s potential for success and at least another decade in his career. Perhaps New York is the place and Struber is the talent whisperer to bring it out of the young Brazilian on a more consistent basis. Despite prior struggles, experience playing in another country could also lessen perceived struggles adapting to living abroad.

The business side of the move is shrewd, as there is little time and financial commitment beyond the next few months. If the newly acquired striker is productive and manages to push Tom Barlow or Brian White down the depth chart, then the club has successfully panned in South American waters and struck gold. In the event that he is not at the proper level or there is no Major League Soccer due to a player striker, Fábio heads back to Brazil without financial penalty or the albatross of a long-term contract.

The Red Bulls made a move for a striker. The loan may not be the expensive transfer for a proven quality that fans and the media want, but it’s a low-risk speculation that could yield a high return. Fábio’s signing will either be a brilliant coup hailed as ingenious for years to come or a quickly forgotten miss quietly resigned to the mothballed archives of New York soccer history, referenced in obscure trivia questions received by a paltry audience.