SANDY, Utah – There are plenty of players one would expect to be proving their worth in the US U-23 national team’s dominating run through the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championship group stage.
Names like Jordan Morris and Gedion Zelalem have the U-23s one step away form booking their trip to the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, but there’s one player who’s quietly reminding everyone why they shouldn’t forget about him.
The performance of Real Salt Lake’s Luis Gil in the midfield has been key as the young Yanks have scored 13 times while conceding just twice in their three Group A matches. Now the Americans are poised to erase their Olympic qualifying failure from four years ago if they manage a win over Honduras on Saturday at Gil’s home field Rio Tinto Stadium.
Gil was named captain in the US’ 4-0 victory over Panama on Thursday night and already had two goals and three assists in the tournament. He’s earned the praise of head coach Andi Herzog and ignited the attack, a stark contrast to his struggles on the club front.
“Of course it’s good when a young player gets a lot of starting time, playing time, to find his rhythm,” Herzog said during his press conference Friday afternoon. “He didn’t play in the last couple of weeks a lot of time, but against Panama, he had a really good game. I was really impressed. I hope tomorrow, at home, he will have the same performance.”
All the while, Gil is still trying to prove himself with RSL.
Gil, only 21 years old but in his fifth year at Rio Tinto, entered the league at the tender age of 17 years old, opting to sign with Real Salt Lake even though he received interest from bigger clubs, such as Arsenal in the Premier League. But this year, he only has one assist and no goals in 22 appearances in RSL’s up-and-down season – a far cry from his 2013 season when he scored five goals and recorded three assists.
Despite all that, the Garden Grove, Calif., native is confident and prepared slotting into the attacking midfield spot, showcasing once again what a special talent he is.
“It’s more natural for me in that position so it kind of comes easy to me,” Gil said. “I feel like even though I haven’t been getting minutes at RSL, I’ve still been working hard off the field so I feel like that’s been helping me a lot and then obviously coming here, getting some time with the team, it’s helping as well.”
Gil and his teammates had little time to prepare for Olympic qualifying with everyone getting together only three days before the first match, but quick friendships formed between the players and fellow midfielder Wil Trapp related that everyone is confident heading into the final match.
“We’re prepared,” Trapp said. “I think our coaching staff has done a fantastic job throughout the tournament preparing us for each match, and it’s no different coming up with the semifinal tomorrow. I also think our camaraderie and chemistry off the field has translated well to performances on the field. I think it’s a good group of leaders who, whether they’re younger guys or older guys, stick together and are all fighting for a common cause and pushing for this Olympic qualification.”
Gil and his team now are focused only on Honduras and booking their ticket to Rio.
“I feel like our mindset from the beginning was to win every single game,” he said. “At the same time it’s do or die now. It’s the last game to make it to the Olympics. We have all the confidence we need.”