17-year-old Gil savors breakout performance for Salt Lake

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SANDY, Utah — RSL may have had a rebound performance in their 3-0 win over the New York Red Bulls, but Saturday night was all about midfielder Luis Gil.

Not only did the 17-year-old see his first start as a playmaker for Real Salt Lake — a spot that many feel he may hold full-time in the future — but he also scored his first professional goal just before halftime.

“I’m just so happy for him,” Chris Wingert said. “He’s such a talent and has got such a good attitude. I couldn’t be happier for him, and it was a great strike. I’m excited to see if he can get us a few more, because I believe he can.”

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The goal came after a New York throw-in deep in their own end. An attempted clearance by Rafa Márquez went straight to Kyle Beckerman, who gave a one-time pass forward to Gil. The young midfielder turned with a good touch toward the goal and from slightly over 20 yards out struck a blast that found its way over the line.

Usually hesitant to hit it from range, Gil was obviously and understandably ecstatic about his goal.

“That was just my option,” said Gil, “Just hit it. Just get it on target, and make something out of it. If it would be a rebound or corner — just make something happen.”

Gil’s shot seemed to baffle New York goalkeeper Frank Rost. The German DP was caught flat-footed and barely moved as the ball snuck inside his far post. Gil wasn’t so sure himself that it was going in.

“I did not [think it was],” he admitted. “I saw it going straight to the keeper and then it kind of knuckled. I was surprised that it went in, but relieved at the same time.”

As excited as Gil was about opening his MLS account, his coaches and teammates were right there with him. 

“It was great,” Beckerman said of the goal. “You’ve got to get that first one sometime, and the quicker you do the better his confidence. He’s just going to grow and the sky’s the limit for him.”

Gil moved to RSL in February 2010 at the age of 16. Though a highly touted youth phenom and linchpin for the US youth national team, he did not see a single minute of MLS action in 2010. For head coach Jason Kreis, seeing the young star shine is special.

“Anytime someone scores their first goal for us, you kind of get a little emotional with the moment,” Kreis said. “And Luis is a kid that has worked extremely hard for us now for a year-and-a-half. He’s done an extremely good job of keeping his head down and not listening to other people around him telling him that he should be playing all the time. 

"But instead he’s just improved his game, and improved his game and improved his game. And now he’s ready for the moment. It was great to see him take advantage of it tonight.”

However, ever the cautionary, Kreis made it clear that it wasn’t time to hand over the reins of the team to the teenager — at least not yet.

“It wasn’t a perfect performance and we need to be completely honest about that as well,” assessed Kreis. “The goal that he struck was fantastic, but there are some tactical things that we need to talk through and improve upon before the next match.” 

The youngster admitted that he got “a little excited” after scoring the goal, and tried to tee up a number of shots through the rest of the match. 

“I had a few players open, but it just boosts my confidence,” Gil said, before adding, “I think I just got a little too excited.”