Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Is Luis Gil Going to Happen?

Nearly five years ago an ESPN article ran on a precocious US U-17 midfielder, Luis Gil: "Gil could be the next big thing." Over the years different variations of this article have been published, as Gil spurned overtures from European clubs and settled at Real Salt Lake.  Even for a talented player such as Gil, finding playing time on a stacked RSL squad has proven difficult.  Struggling to find a consistent role, Gil has moved around the 4-1-2-1-2 diamond (and 4-3-3 more recently) playing as a right midfielder, attacking midfielder, and central midfielder.  Recently, he has been playing most often as a central midfielder.

 Despite his shifting roles and relative lack of impact for RSL, Jurgen Klinsmann had apparently seen enough to give him a cap in the US' 2-0 February win over Panama.  Despite these signals of approval (and the fact that Gil is still only 21), there is a growing sense of skepticism that he may ever develop into an impactful international player.  During a recent Matthew Doyle AMA I posed a version of this question:

I think Matt's questions are good ones.  While we cannot answer the "ceiling" question for a couple more years, we may be able to assess his best position.

As shown above, Gil is increasingly being used as a central midfielder by RSL (this year in the 4-3-3 but in prior years in a 4-1-2-1-2).  The problem for Gil is that he has really struggled to make much of an impact in that role.  The presence of Javi Morales and Kyle Beckerman, two of the better mids in MLS history, certainly has had an effect.  Nevertheless, Gil must find a way to assert himself; if not with his passing, then at least with his defensive contribution.  No matter the reason, his stats do not compare favorably to other young central MLS players (2014 stats).

The most effective period for Gil thus far in his career was a brief stretch last year where he was forced into an attacking role (Javi Morales was out).  During those 356 minutes (or roughly 9% of his entire career) he recorded three goals/assists.  The other 3,779 minutes have seen only four goals/assists.  Counter-intuitively, despite being higher up the pitch, Gil actually recorded much better pass usage numbers than as a deeper-lying player.  In short, he was a key component of RSL's attack.

Granted, this is a small sample and things might change for Gil as a central player, but the evidence to this point suggests that if Gil ends up making an impact at the international level, it will probably have to come higher up the pitch.

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