FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — When Carles Gil was approached about signing as a Designated Player with the New England Revolution before the 2019 season, the project was framed to the Spanish midfielder as him being the missing piece in the attacking puzzle.
Gil, who was at Deportivo de La Coruña in Spain, admittedly did not know much about MLS, but upon some research before and after signing his contract, something stood out to him. Attacking players like Josef Martinez of Venezuela and Mexico’s Carlos Vela left their teams in Italy and Spain, respectively, to sign with MLS teams and made big splashes after up-and-down careers in Europe.
“When I first came to [MLS] what really surprised me was the quality of some individual players that came to play in the league,” the 26-year-old said via translator.
Gil, who also played in England for Aston Villa and with Spanish side Valencia, had a clear mandate to be the dominant creative force with the Revolution.
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“From the beginning they made me feel like they really wanted me to come in here and be that DP player as we call it,” Gil said. “Last season [the Revs] started well but they kind of fell off toward the end, missed the playoff run. This year, when they brought me in, it was initially to try to link up with our forwards. So they were really looking for me to play that kind of role in the middle.”
It did not take long for Gil to make an impact with the Revs as he scored in their season-opening 1-1 draw with FC Dallas and combined his attacking and passing brio with dogged defensive determination. New England struggled mightily though as they started 2-8-2. That start saw coach Brad Friedel and general manager Mike Burns leave the club and MLS veteran coach and executive Bruce Arena come in to engineer a turnaround.
Gil took over as captain and tallied 7 goals and 12 assists over the final 22 games to help the Revs climb from the bottom of the table and into the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs for their first postseason appearance since 2015. Gil finished the season with 10 goals and 14 assists and was named 2019 MLS Newcomer of the Year on Wednesday. He will lead the Revs against Atlanta United on Saturday (1 pm ET | Univision, TUDN in US; TSN4, TVAS in Canada).
“It was totally different than what I was accustomed to playing in Europe, but you know to be honest with you, I believe the way the locker room welcomed me has a lot to do with how I was able to adapt quickly and be able to perform over the last season,” Gil said.
Teammates initially answer with simple superlatives when asked about Gil’s playing style and skills. Inevitably, however, they describe with flair some of Gil’s unique abilities.
Forward Teal Bunbury talked about the Spaniard's touch and calmness on the ball before going on to describe Gil as a video-game cheat code.
“He's not scared to get [the ball] with 10 guys on him,” Bunbury said. “He'll dribble out of trouble.”
Forward Gustavo Bou said during his first training session with the team after his July acquisition that he could immediately tell that Gil was a quality player with excellent field vision. Bou then ascribed a saying from his native Argentina to Gil’s dominant left foot.
“Like we say in Argentina, he’s got that left leg, it’s like a glove and he puts the ball wherever he wants it,” Bou said via translator.
Arena skips the superfluous when talking about his talismanic DP.
“He's a playmaker in a day and age where there are very few of them,” Arena said.
Arena, who has coached players like Marco Etcheverry, Landon Donovan and David Beckham across his long career, said Gil sets himself apart with consistent output every game, despite having a “bullseye on his back” and playing all but eight minutes in 34 regular-season matches.
“Players have a tendency to be a little bit up and down,” Arena said. “Carles has played at an extremely high level each and every game.”
Arena added that Gil mostly leads by example as captain.
“He's definitely not a rah-rah type,” Arena said of Gil’s leadership style. “He'll talk to players at the right times but he's not one of those demanding, commanding types of guys. The way he plays, it says an awful lot.”