With 2011 officially in the books, MLSsoccer.com's Best of 2011 spends the last day of the series looking forward to 2012.
Here, new media editor Matthew Doyle breaks down our editors' pick for the MLS Breakout Player of 2012 - Real Salt Lake's Luis Gil.
Trying to predict the Breakout Player of the Year is always a bit of a gamble.
After all, who knew, going into 2011, that Dominic Oduro had a dozen goals in him? Or that Nick LaBrocca was actually a poor man’s Paul Scholes? Or that Dan Kennedy, after years on the bench, had the talent and mental makeup to be a top MLS goalkeeper?
So it’s always a bit of a crapshoot. But ... we’re pretty sure it’s about to break, and break big, with Luis Gil.
The little midfielder has been on everyone’s radar since he was about 13 years old, and in 2011 he showed why. At just age 17, he became a regular for Real Salt Lake, and while his numbers weren’t huge – two goals in 25 appearances – the first touch, the tactical awareness, the willingness to play first-time passes through the middle, and his commitment to playing both sides of the ball all screamed “future star.”
Gil showed the tools and maturity that coaches crave in players of any age; the fact that he had them at 17 (he turned 18 in November, a week after RSL’s season ended in the Western Conference Championship) has to have fans of the Claret-and-Cobalt positively giddy about what the future holds.
In 2012, it should mean more playing time and perhaps a more defined role. Gil wasn’t quite a playmaker in 2011 – he’s not a pure wizard like teammate Javier Morales – but seemed most at home facilitating the attack, then finding gaps to shoot off the ball. Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, the name “Claudio Reyna” certainly comes to mind.
And now RSL are suddenly a bit thin in midfield with the retirement of Andy Williams and the selection of Collen Warner in the Expansion Draft. Gil should be the de facto first midfielder off the bench, though he’ll no doubt be given a fair chance to win Williams’ old place in the starting lineup on the right side.
So for 2012, it’s all seeming to add up to Gil having a breakout year. What that means in numbers – goals, assists and the like – is tough to say. But Gil’s not ever going to be the kind of guy whose contributions are measured in traditional stats.
The real breakout will be from putting an 18-year-old prodigy out there who can keep the RSL midfield – the smoothest-running midfield in the league when everyone’s healthy – moving at a steady hum. On both sides of the ball.
Making that call is really no gamble at all.
2. Michael Farfan, Philadelphia Union – Farfan ended up being a jack of all trades for the Union, playing both fullback slots, all over the midfield, and even up top in brief stretches. If he finds a permanent spot at left midfield – and he should, with Justin Mapp now in Montreal – expect big numbers and several golazos from the second-year man.
3. Darlington Nagbe, Portland Timbers – Nagbe had one of the signature moments of 2011 with his juggling, jaw-dropping Goal of the Year, but never stayed healthy enough to become a consistent force in his rookie season. If he can stay away from the trainer’s room in 2012, he’s a fair bet to become the focal point of the Portland attack. And he’s good enough to make it work.
WATCH: Firchau, Wiebe, and Lalas on RSL's Luis Gil