Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
SUNRISE, Fla. — Luis Gil understands the opportunities that stand before him and he is ready to grab them and not let go.
As 2012 wraps up and 2013 begins, Gil looks set for a big year on both the club and international levels. The 19-year-old midfielder is poised to take on a more prominent role with Real Salt Lake next season, and he is also expected to be one of the integral parts to the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team as it prepares for World Cup qualifying.
Tackling both tasks simultaneously might be daunting for most 19-year-olds, but Gil is a three-year veteran in MLS and is prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.
“It’s a huge opportunity for me and not many players get that,” Gil told SBI. “I feel like qualifying wise and national team wise, it’s a big stepping stone for me, especially to even go on to men’s national team and get seen from there. But with Real Salt Lake as well, getting more playing time, being more of a key player, so I feel like it’s a big opportunity for me and it’s just up to me to grab it.”
At Real Salt Lake, conversations have already been had about Gil’s role for next season. RSL head coach Jason Kreis talked to Gil following their playoff defeat to the Seattle Sounders to tell the youngster how he would be counted upon even more in 2013, and that scenario is taking shape after the departure of one of the team’s key offensive weapons in Fabian Espindola.
Gil knows his time to deliver for Real Salt Lake is fast approaching.
“We had meetings together, but I feel like me personally, I need to step up now,” said Gil. “This is going to be my fourth year and I know I’m still only 19 and not many 19-year-olds are in four years already, but at the same time I have some experience now and now I have to put in a work thing because now it’s not an age thing. Once you step onto the field, it’s who plays better.”
In 2012, Gil played in 29 games for Real Salt Lake, a stark contrast from his rookie year in 2010 when he never saw the field. Gil was not always happy with his lack of playing time then, but having matured on and off the field and understanding better what it takes to make it in MLS, he is thankful for the way Kreis integrated him into the professional ranks.
“I feel like I was in best spot possible,” said Gil. “It just worked out fine. He brought me in slowly, which I appreciate now. When I first came, obviously you want to play and play but you’ve got to understand it takes time with these things and you can’t just force things, so I feel like I came out slowly and it just all worked out for me.”
As a result of Kreis’ plan for him, Gil believes he is more of a two-way and team-oriented player than he was a couple years ago and that is one of the reasons many pundits expect the attacking midfielder to be a key cog for U.S. U-20 head coach Tab Ramos.
Under-20 World Cup qualifying in Mexico begins in about two months, and preparations have continued in South Florida during this past week. Gil is one of many players fighting for a spot on the team, but Ramos has been impressed with what he has brought to the camp.
“This is probably the best camp he has had with us all year,” Ramos told SBI. “I can really tell that he’s engaged and he wants this and he wants to help the team anyway he can and that’s a good sign for a player who is already in the pros and playing every day, so we’re happy to see that.”
The camp has not been an extensive one, having started last Saturday and ending on Friday afternoon with a friendly against Venezuela. Still, Gil understands just how important it is to make the most of this opportunity.
“Some guys are new in here, some guys are first-timers,” said Gil,” but some of us have been here for a while, but at the same time just because we’ve been here for a while doesn’t mean we’re guaranteed a spot.”