SANDY, Utah –There was never really any question in Luis Gil’s mind what his next move would be after he helped the US Under-20 national team qualify for this summer’s FIFA U-20 World Cup.
He was headed back to join Real Salt Lake.
"We qualified,” the 19-year-old midfielder told reporters on Thursday after returning from Mexico. “I feel like that was just the main thing. I know the team will be fine without me there. I felt like coming back here it gives me another opportunity. It's the first game of the season and we are going to hopefully start the season off well."
Gil had perhaps his best game of the CONCACAF U-20 Championship on Tuesday, scoring a goal and adding an assist as the US beat Canada 4-2 to book a berth in the World Cup in Turkey. But even though the Americans have a semifinal vs. Cuba on Friday, and perhaps a date in Sunday’s final, Gil said he didn’t feel any pressure from Jason Kreis or the RSL brass to return to his club.
"It was definitely mine,” he said of the decision. “I felt like I wanted to be here.”
Gil returns to his club in good form, after logging two goals and two assists over three games for the US. He believes that will translate to RSL’s season opener at San Jose on Sunday (10 pm ET, watch LIVE online). That transition is something Garth Lagerwey hopes will happen as well.
"If he gained nothing else from the Under-20s, it should be confidence,” RSL’s general manager told reporters on Thursday. “He was the man.
"The point here is not to heap pressure on Luis – he's got to do this, he's got to do that. I think when he is paired as a part of our group, he can be a enormously effective player."
It also means being an immediately necessary player. With Javier Morales still shelved after knee surgery, Gil will be needed. Sebastián Velásquez has been running the No. 10 spot in preseason in both players’ absence, but Gil has more reps in MLS, with 33 starts over the past two seasons.
"I think he is ready to be an impactful player," said Lagerwey. "The challenge we put to him is, can he show up on the scoreboard? Instead of just being a complementary player surrounded by veterans, can he now be assertive?
“The best thing about him playing with the U-20s is that because they ran their attack through him, because he played No. 10, he had to be a leader,” continued Lagerwey. “He was put into this different psychological role that we want him to play with us as well. He doesn't have to be the man, he doesn't have to be the only leader, but he has to be in situations now where he demands the ball. He says, 'I'm going to show up.'"