Sporting a suit and tie, emotions still charging, Carles Gil sat down to discuss the highest individual honor of his professional career.
While the New England Revolution playmaker found out “four or five days ago,” it was officially unveiled Tuesday that he’s the 2021 Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player. The ceremony, held at Gillette Stadium after he captained a Supporters’ Shield-winning season and now single-season points record, included plenty of smiles and a few tears.
He’s soaking up this moment for all it’s worth.
“A lot of emotions in my head,” the 29-year-old Spaniard told MLSsoccer.com via a translator. “You have not-so-good moments that make you value these moments. Sometimes we don't value these moments enough. But I thought a lot about my family and friends who are far away from me, back in Spain. In general, a lot of emotions.”
This award comes after Gil recorded a league-leading 18 assists alongside four goals, his left foot the architect of countless Revolution attacking moves. As often as now-departed winger Tajon Buchanan or forwards Gustavo Bou and Adam Buksa – the latter two his fellow Designated Players – supplied highlight-grabbing goals, Gil was the orchestrator, the puppet-master pulling the strings.
And it’s why Gil was the runaway MVP winner, beating out runner-ups Hany Mukhtar (Nashville SC) and Joao Paulo (Seattle Sounders) by over 40% in the voting process. Three years after arriving from Deportivo La Coruna, then competing in Spain’s second division, the soft-smiling midfielder is thriving.
“I came here in a complicated moment,” Gil said. “I didn't enjoy the field and I wasn't performing the way I wanted to perform. So I came here looking for something different. I came here hoping to find myself again and fast forward three years later, I'm happy, I'm enjoying it and I'm giving the best version of myself.”
Gil, who signed during the Brad Friedel era, has been the centerpiece of New England’s return to prosperity under head coach and sporting director Bruce Arena, the 2021 MLS Sigi Schmid Schmid Coach of the Year. They learn from each other, an all-time coaching great giving freedom and responsibility to a No. 10 who not too long ago was competing for La Liga’s Valencia and the Premier League’s Aston Villa.
Arena, a believer in the simple-yet-decisive outlook that your best players need to be your best players to find success in MLS, has let Gil go to work.
“From the first moment he arrived, he showed a lot of confidence in me,” Gil said. “We talked about the role that he envisioned for me and my importance on the team. Bruce is a legend both in this country and in the league. Every day I'm learning from him, he gives me advice to improve and I intend to learn from him as much as I can because it's not everyone who can say they had Bruce as a coach. I try to take advantage of that as best as I can.”
Although Gil’s MVP award is about the individual, he kept noting the collective goals and motivation that lingers after 2021. New England, holding dreams of marching through the Eastern Conference bracket and hosting MLS Cup 2021 in Foxborough, lost in the Conference Semifinals on penalty kicks to New York City FC.
Gil said he's valuing their accomplishments more and more, but a sour taste lingers and will motivate their 2022 campaign. The two-time MLS Best XI selection even feels he has “more to give," another level to reach.
That opportunity arrives quickly, with New England competing in the 2022 Concacaf Champions League come mid-February. Preseason starts in mid-January, then next season opens Feb. 26, the earliest date in MLS history. He’ll soon go back home to Spain for rest and recovery, returning with “batteries recharged.”
“It's important to continue on the same line and continue improving,” said Gil, who also won the 2021 MLS Comeback Player of the Year award. “Each and every year we keep bringing in great players. We know we have a tough loss with Tajon [going to Club Brugge], but we have to continue improving. I'm sure we'll keep being a winning team and hope to fight for it all again next season.”
This past May, Gil also re-signed with New England through the 2024 season. His long-term future is in the Boston area, finding a second home after a fork-in-the-road moment.
But will he eventually retire in a Revolution uniform? Gil doesn’t quite bite on that, even if he’s clearly content.
“I don't like to think big picture too much. I try to look at what's next,” Gil said. “But I found my place here, I'm happy here and I'm performing on the field here. I have it all.”