SANDY, Utah – Real Salt Lake midfielder Luis Gil – viewed as one of the team's next big things since he signed in 2010 at the age of 16 – may finally be coming into his own.
In the space of five days last week, the now-20-year-old played his best back-to-back games in memory. In a friendly against Tijuana, Gil played at the top of Salt Lake's diamond formation, consistently creating opportunities and finally scoring the team's only goal in a 1-1 tie when he shook off a defender and curled in a fantastic finish in the 88th minute.
“We get the ball rolling,” he said. “I'll do some movements, open up some space for some other guys, and then they'll do the same for me. I feel like it's free-flowing in there, and guys are making plays.”
Gil was still in the central attacking mid spot on Saturday – the position he calls “natural for me” – subbing for an injured Javier Morales. Aided by a stint in that spot with the U-23 national team from Aug. 3-7 and in the friendly against Tijuana, Gil looked completely at ease in a 2-1 win over Seattle that lifted RSL into first place in the Western Conference.
"Playing that position [with the U-23s] … gave me some confidence, and it's been going good since," Gil told MLSsoccer.com. “I've been real comfortable and getting things going there. I've been playing that position for years. But, obviously, with RSL it's difficult going from right mid to central mid. It's two completely different positions on this team. In fact, I'm just getting back into the central mid position, [getting] a feel for it. I feel like good things are going to come.”
Throughout much of the season, Gil has seen limited playing time for RSL, but RSL coach Jeff Cassar said the coaching staff never lost confidence in Gil.
“He's never fallen out of favor,” Cassar told MLSsoccer.com. “What I really like now is he's contributing for 90 minutes. I felt like, earlier in the year, he was kind of falling off around the 50th, 60th minute. We were having to get him out.”
Gil has battled a hamstring injury much of the year, one he said is worse than previous injuries he has dealt with.
“I've never had stuff like that that's kept me out for so long,” he said. “I've had things, like with my ankle, that kept me out a week or two, but nothing like this.”
Cassar credited Gil for his hard work at rehabbing the injury, but Gil admits to frustration because of it. He insists he has not been comparing his situation to those of US senior national-team youngsters like Julian Green of Bayern Munich and DeAndre Yedlin, who recently signed a deal to transfer to Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League next year.
“I don't even pay attention to that stuff," GIl said. "I want to progress and get better. I feel like there's a lot of players that don't do that. All these people getting great opportunities, I'm happy for them. I have no worries about that.”
If there was a turning point for Gil, it came Aug. 2 in Colorado, when RSL held onto a 1-0 lead despite going down a man in the 46th minute after Aaron Maund was red-carded. Gil played nearly the full game – he was subbed out in the 85th minute as Cassar tried to kill off the game's final minutes – and earned his coach's praise for “putting it in on the defensive side.”
“I think that game against Colorado really helped him out,” Cassar said. “He's really starting to come along. He's feeling good and playing well and playing with a smile.”