Sandy • In his slow, uncomfortable walk off the field inside all-too-familiar Sporting Park, it was clear Luis Gil was hampered. It was April 5, and the 20-year-old attacking midfielder considered a massive part of Real Salt Lake’s present and its future had put on a shining performance the previous week against Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe and Toronto FC. RSL railroaded the TFC 3-0 in front of Jurgen Klinsmann. Gil scored a goal.
The U.S. men’s national team coach took notice, calling in Gil, along with RSL staples Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando and Tony Beltran for the April 2 friendly against Mexico in Arizona. Gil’s momentum was rolling. He’d spent a month with the USMNT in a dry run at this summer’s World Cup, impressing to make his first career senior team appearance during a 2-0 win over South Korea on Feb. 1 in Carson, Calif.
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But the return trip to Sporting Kansas City, the site of RSL’s 2013 MLS Cup final loss, dealt something new. It was injury. It was a test. Gil exited the eventual 0-0 draw with a leg injury, one that would keep him sidelined until May 17. It forced him to miss an inaugural pre-Olympic U.S. U-21 training camp in late April.
"I feel like it’s all an experience," Gil said. "I’ve never been through this throughout my years [as a pro]. You’re going to have your ups and downs — it’s just about how you get through it. I feel like I’m getting better as the season goes on."
Considering he’s appeared in 10 of the club’s 15 league matches and started seven, Gil says he feels he remains in the process of finding his optimal form. Physically, he’s fine, Gil said, but the first half of the 2014 season hasn’t exactly played out according to plan. The injury took its time while RSL continued its impressive 6-0-6 start.
"Definitely," he said. "It just lingers and stuff like that. It’s a learning experience and we’ve still got a lot of the season to go … just have to make the most of it and be smart about it."
Right now, RSL needs its young, talented midfielder. Severely undermanned due to World Cup call-ups or through a plethora of injuries, the club went through a dry spell before the World Cup break, going 0-1-2 in league play. It was ousted in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup tournament against the Atlanta Silverbacks on June 14. Gil gave his team the lead at Columbus on June 4, his second goal of the year.
Sooner or later, the strong form he ended 2013 with will need to be called upon to aid RSL in keeping up with the Joneses in the cluttered Western Conference.
"Luis Gil is huge to this team," said RSL coach Jeff Cassar. "He’s huge when he’s starting and he’s huge when he’s coming off the bench, he’s huge when we have a rotation of midfielders to keep people fresh."
There are enough established midfield veterans to help carry the load while Beckerman stars in Brazil or when Ned Grabavoy returns from injury or to give the wheels of 34-year-old Javier Morales a break.
"I just feel like I’ve got to perform," Gil said.
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