GIL ON THE RISE
As the both US U-20 national teams and the US Olympic team look to begin to put together their teams in the next year , one player who is likely to be in the mix for both is Real Salt Lake midfielder Luis Gil.
Gil, 17, has frequently been a part of US youth national teams in the past but with his increased playing time for MLS' best team in recent years, he is likely to feature even more.
Most recently, Gil is coming off a pair of strong performances for the US U-18 national team and the US U-20 national teams back in May.
With the US U-20s, Gil played in a pair of friendlies against a French team that is expected to be a top contender for the U-20 World Cup this summer. In the first friendly, Gil scored a terrific goal from just inside the penalty box to give the Americans a 3-3 draw.
Following that game, Gil traveled to Portugal where he captained the US U-18 team to a draw against a strong Netherlands team.
"It was good," Gil told YA of the experience. "Obviously I got some playing time in and was able to represent the country. Getting in good games against quality teams was fun and I enjoyed it."
Gil immediate future is with the US U-20 team and the 2013 cycle will be an important one for the US program. The 2011 team was regarded by many to be one of the strongest ever youth teams for the US Soccer but the team failed to qualify for the World Cup due to a combination of poor play, injuries, along with a failure to get top players released for the qualifying tournament.
Gil is looking forward to being part of a 2013 team that will attempt to put the program back on the right track.
"I'm really looking forward to it," Gil said optimistically. "I didn't make it this past time but that's just going to make me work harder and make me more prepared for this cycle."
It is very uncertain who will be coaching the US U-20 team because after the failure to qualify, US Soccer announced it would not renew the contract of long time coach Thomas Rongen.
When the US team played against France back in May, Tab Ramos was hired to coach those two games alone. Gil enjoyed playing under the former USMNT World Cup midfielder and would not mind if Ramos is given the job permanently.
"I love the guy," Gil said of Ramos. "I thought he did a really good job as a coach. I like his style of play. He really wants people to work hard and he'll give them the opportunity. Obviously we have to take advantage of that."
Gil's emergence to becoming a key player in the US youth soccer system is important on another level. He is one of several key Mexican-American players that have elected to play for the US team over arch-rival Mexico.
Gil is a native of Garden Grove, California but is the son of Mexican-born parents. His background is similar to that of Moises Orozco, Omar Salgado, Adrian Ruelas, Victor Garza, and Juan Oceguda as players who have had the choice to play for El Tri but are now aligned with the US internationally.
"It wasn't difficult," Gil said of his choice to play for the US. "I had the chance to play for Mexico as well but the US gave me the opportunity first and I felt comfortable with US Soccer. It wasn't too much stress and I didn't really worry about it. For sure I'm a US soccer player and I always will be."
Gil is also confident that this growing inclusion of Mexican American players into the US player pool will benefit US Soccer because it will give the US team different players who have different skill-sets.
"It really will benefit US Soccer," Gil pointed out. "We'll have a different style of soccer and we can get used to different styles with different players. For US Soccer, we really need to take a step forward and progress little by little. Just getting [these types of players] will help things more and more."
Gil's last major tournament for the United States came in 2009 when he was one of the top American players at the U-17 World Cup. In that tournament, Gil was just 15 years old but he caught the eye of many top scouts at elite clubs.
In the months that followed, Gil had an opportunity to join Arsenal but FIFA's restrictions on players under the age of 18 to play outside of their home country along with Gil being ineligible for an EU passport made it very difficult for both him and his family.
"With the whole Arsenal situation, it was too much of a hard thing to do," Gil recalled. "My parents would have had to move with me to Europe too since I was underage. We'd all have to start a whole new life. I'd then have to be loaned out to Spain for two years to get my European passport. It was too much of a project to go through. There were too many steps to make it to Arsenal."
In 2010, Gil signed on with Major League Soccer and his rights were held as part of a draft. Kansas City won the lottery but traded him to Real Salt Lake. Still only 16, Gil was loaned to AC St. Louis during the 2010 so that he could play regularly.
One of the longest running issues of MLS is whether or not it has the ability to develop young American players and as one of the top young players in the country, Gil's development will be a true benchmark.
So far the results have been positive. This past year has seen Gil break into the first team plans of head coach Jason Kreis. Despite being courted by one of the biggest and most prestigious clubs in the world, Gil is very happy with his career choices how things have gone for him in MLS
"I love playing under Jason and his style of play," Gil stated emphatically. "He just wants a lot of hard work out of us. He lets us do what we want. Obviously we have a game plan but when the game kicks off he gives us a lot of freedom. That really gets the players more comfortable with each other and easier for us."
"MLS, I believe under the right coaching staff, could be a really good place to develop," he added. "I actually like the decision I took - especially being under Jason Kreis and the whole RSL coaching staff. I think he is an amazing coach especially taking on a project with developing me as a player. I think he's doing a really good job at it."
In recent weeks Gil's development has begun to pay dividends for Real Salt Lake. He has begun to start games for the club and has earned positive reviews for his play, specifically in his technical ability and tactical knowledge.
"I obviously want to be that impact player but I know Jason [Kreis] is being patient with me," Gil said of his recent breakthroughs at the club. "I want to improve as a player. I still have a lot to learn. Hopefully sooner than later I can become one of those players that can make a real impact with the team."
As far as his future, Gil right now is completely focused on Real Salt Lake and getting them back into contention for another MLS Cup and a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League. He does however hope that the opportunity to play in Europe will someday be there for him in the future.
"It's on my mind and I hope the opportunity is there later in life," Gil concluded. "But right now I am just focused on Real Salt Lake and the things in my game that I need to work on."