SANDY, Utah — A lot of people have high expectations for Real Salt Lake midfielder Luis Gil this season. And that includes Gil himself, who told reporters this week that he needs to “be more of an impact player.”
“I feel like I did that here and there last year," he told reporters at training this past week, "… but I feel like I want to be more consistent."
Gil has been The Next Great Thing since he signed with RSL four years ago as a 16-year-old. And he's made steady progress, both with the MLS club and on a national level.
He appeared in the closing minutes of the US national team's 2-0 friendly win over South Korea last Saturday. And he couldn't contain a big grin when he was asked about that.
“It was a great feeling to step on that field with the men's national team, not the youth [team] anymore,” Gil said. “It was a good accomplishment and very humbling.”
And it's pretty much what his teammates have been expecting since Gil was a kid.
“I've seen him grow and become a better player each year,” said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman, who played all 90 minutes for the USMNT last weekend. “He's learned and he's kept improving. And so to finally see him get a chance with the national team is great.
“He showed that he wasn't fazed at all. He does what Luis does. He acts way older than he is.”
And he'll be asked to continue to take on a bigger role with RSL this year, just as he was in 2013.
“We challenged him last year,” said Salt Lake general manager Garth Lagerwey. “We said, 'Show up on the scoreboard.'”
Gil scored five goals for the Claret-and-Cobalt, two more than he'd had in the previous two seasons combined. He added three assists, and his playing time during the 2013 regular season was up 450 minutes over what it was in 2012.
“He can be a franchise player,” Lagerwey said.“He knows it. We know it.”
And Real Salt Lake are ready for Gil to step up and become a team leader. The GM pointed to a the Sept. 28, 2013, game when RSL took a team made up mostly of reserves to Vancouver. Gil played at the top of RSL diamond formation and “started to lead the team and we won that game 1-0,” Lagerwey said, “and he was fabulous.”
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Under new head coach Jeff Cassar, the expectations haven't changed.
“I think he's a hungry player,” Cassar said, adding that Gil needs to stay that way to compete both for RSL and for the USMNT. Although how quickly he slides into a lead role in the Salt Lake midfield remains to be seen.
“We just need him to be a key contributor and step up when we need him,” Lagerwey said. “Look, if everything's clicking – Beckerman, [Javier] Morales, [Ned] Grababoy and he are all coming together, we don't need him to take over a game. But when we're missing a couple of those guys, then we do.
“So we need him to be a spot franchise player, if there's such a thing.”
And Gil said he's up to the challenge.
“I've got to focus on RSL,” he said. “It's awesome to have a team like this and management like that always supporting me. Especially at my age.”