PUEBLA, Mexico – More than any other player, there is a heavy burden on Real Salt Lake playmaker Luis Gil to be the man to push the US Under-20 national team over the line and into the World Cup this summer.
Gil, 19, showed flashes of his talent and potential in the first team's opening game of the CONCACAF U-20 Championship, a 2-1 win over Haiti on Monday, but was not as clinical as he would’ve liked in converting chances and wasn’t able to influence the game as he would’ve wanted.
The creative fulcrum of Tab Ramos’ side, Gil has been tasked with a key role for the team but seemed too often to have his back to goal on Monday and admitted his performance against the now-eliminated Haiti was “not the best.”
“I think I gave away the ball a little too much,” Gil told MLSsoccer.com at US camp on Tuesday. “It was the first game, but you can’t use that as an excuse not to be ready for it.”
But ahead of Friday's final group-stage match against Costa Rica (6:30 pm ET, FOX Soccer), the importance of Gil is not lost on Ramos, who knows a thing or two about playing that creative attacking midfield role, having done so himself for US youth sides and the full US national team for more than a decade.
“Luis is always important for us, he’s one of the veteran players on this team and of course he knows we expect a lot from him,” Ramos told reporters after Wednesday's training. “I think he expects a lot from himself and I think he will continue to make progress.”
Gil also brings a significant amount of club experience to the US squad. He enjoyed his breakout season in MLS for Real Salt Lake in 2011 and has gone on to make more than 50 appearances since then. He announced his arrival in the top flight of the US game with his first goal for RSL, struck from outside the box against New York Red Bulls.
“It’s different playing with the MLS and then coming down to my age," said Gil, "but it helps a little bit to build confidence and with being a bit more of a leader."
Gil has been a regular at the US youth level since his time with the Under-15s, and joined the U-17 residency program at just 14 years old. He’s very much a flagship product of US Soccer.
For his part, Ramos values the experience that Gil brings to the table and is confident that he will stand up and be counted when the big games – like the quarterfinal the United States will play next Tuesday, Feb. 26 – come around.
“You know you can count on a player like Luis when it is an important game,” said Ramos. “He’s not going to get nervous.”
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.