Youngster Gil eager to find perfect role
Luis Gil is not a grown-up.
The Real Salt Lake midfielder, who drew interest from clubs like Arsenal, Real Madrid, Manchester City and others after a sterling showing as the youngest member of the United States squad at the 2009 U-17 World Cup, can thread a pass that would awe his adult contemporaries.
But he can't drink, can't vote and lives with a host family despite the six-figure Generation adidas contract he signed with Major League Soccer in March.
In fact, one of the most adult things he does now is play big brother to Brian Noguera's 4-year-old son. Noguera works in RSL's ticket office, and along with his wife Natalie, houses Gil. It’s a welcome chance to play a good role model for Gil, who has two older brothers and is stuck with the role of the wide-eyed youngster on RSL.
"Oh yeah, it's kind of a lot of responsibility," Gil told MLSsoccer.com. "He looks up to me and I have to set a good example for him."
While Gil plays big bro off the field, on it RSL manager Jason Kreis and Gil's club teammates treat him very much like the developing talent he is. It's a relief for a teenager who admits he had a lot on his shoulders after the World Cup.
"He's 17 years old," Kreis said. "People need to be reminded of that again and again and again. He's not an adult yet, and he shouldn't be treated like one."
Gil’s slow development is all part of the plan agreed upon by the player, his family, coach and general manager Garth Lagerway. The young midfielder spent the first part of the year training with RSL before joining AC St. Louis on loan. He played nine matches for the USSF D-2 side, scoring his first professional goal on Sept. 18 against the Austin Aztex.
After the season, Gil returned to RSL and started in a CONCACAF Champions League group match against Cruz Azul in October. Kreis noticed his charges' improvement when he returned to Utah.
"We saw somebody that had some real-live match experience and got knocked around a little bit," he said. "He was in better playing form. He did very well in training and earned his opportunity to play against Cruz Azul."
For his part, Gil – a gifted offensive player with Tab Ramos' playmaking gene – spent the year focusing on transitioning into a force on both ends of the field.
"This year, I mostly worked on my defense,” Gil said. “I used to be a one-way player. I had the attacking side down, but I struggled on defense. I talked to Jason about it at the beginning of the year. He wants me going from 18 to 18. He would see me go forward, but my reaction time to go back was really slow. He wanted me to improve."
Gil got better in his first year as a professional, but RSL boast one of the deepest squads in MLS. He could struggle to find time during the 2011 season, but the US Soccer’s 2009 Young Male Athlete of the Year believes his can contribute.
His coach expects he will as well, primarily as a guy who comes off the bench and impacts matches.
"I'd like to see Luis become a little bit more of an effective player who can take the game by the scruff," Kreis said. "I want to see him becoming a little bit more effective in the final third. He has some talent that he hasn't realized because he's a little bit more of a shy character. He will continue to come out of his shell."
If the teenager develops in time, he will compete for a spot on the U-20 squad that should qualify for this summer's World Cup in Colombia. Gil, who will still be eligible for the youth side in 2013, is currently playing with the American's U-18 side, but coach Thomas Rongen thinks the RSL midfielder has a shot to figure into the U-20 proceedings.
"He'll be an important member going forward," Rongen said. "I'll talk to Jason to see if he warrants an inclusion to the U-20 camp. We have to do what's best for him."
But that's in the future. Right now, a 4-year-old boy needs a role model.
Noah Davis covers the United States national team for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @noahedavis.