Few players in 2015 have as much expectation hoisted on them as Luis Gil, Real Salt Lake's prodigious attacking midfielder who's been the next big thing for five years.
We've talked rather endlessly about his 2014 campaign and his struggles, and he even talked about it with us in a Q&A.
My 2014 season was a difficult one. Many don't know but I had struggled with an injury that kept me out for a while and that was new to me because I've never had an injury that would keep me off the field for a few months with a hamstring strain. It was a good learning process though because it's part of the game and you got to learn how to take care of yourself when situations like that happens. It was just difficult to get back into the rhythm and find my form again.
But 2015 has, so far, been a different story. He's been not just good, but exciting to watch and consistently involved in play. And when we talk about exciting, he's showing skills that put him above and beyond most midfielders in the league.
If we talk about his positional play, maybe we'll find the things that are putting him in those positive spots. He's generally playing behind Javier Morales in formation, but it's a bit more interesting than just that. Morales is sometimes the deeper of the two, with Gil applying high pressure, and Gil is pushing out into wide positions for combination play and to create chances.
Importantly, he's been good in defensive shapes, playing 83 minutes in Saturday's big win over Colorado Rapids and looking effective throughout. He'd drop into the right back spot when Tony Beltran went a little further forward to challenge for a ball, or he'd be the player pushing just a little forward to apply pressure. It's that sort of defensive mindedness that makes a big difference as we look forward.
Gil hasn't been scoring goals in preseason, but that's not all he's good for. He's creating space, he's opening channels, and his passing has been high-quality. Obviously, a positive preseason doesn't mean that Gil is reborn as this fiery phoenix of a player, but it does give us something to be very happy about as we look forward to the season.
He also played in a match against Panama for the United States, and he was impressive then, too. February's been kind to Luis Gil, and let's hope that March is even kinder.