I've been letting this question brew in my head for the last few weeks, and I don't know if there's an easy answer.
What do we do with Luis Gil?
It's a question without an easy answer, and it's one that's picked up more steam in recent weeks. It's also a question we've been asking since near the start of the season, and it's not really something we had a good answer for then, either.
But several factors have made this an even bigger issue. Let's go over those.
- After being pegged to start the match, then not starting it, Gil made some crucial mistakes in a late collapse against Colorado Rapids
- MLS salaries were released, and Gil makes a good chunk of change — and considerably more than some of his midfield colleagues.
- Gil has yet to have more than one or two breakout performances in 2015.
But while we often fell back to the safe position that you can't judge Gil when he's not playing at the number-10 spot, even time there seems to have been accompanied by less than optimal performances.
Which puts us back at square one. What do we do with Luis Gil, and how did we get to this position?
But before we jump to any crazy conclusions, there are some mitigating factors to consider.
- Luis Gil is 22. While he's been here since he was 16, Gil is still a young player, and he's still younger than (or the same age as) most American soccer players (or nearly any other professional athlete in this nation) coming out of college into the professional ranks.
- For much of the season so far, nobody's looked great for Real Salt Lake. Players have had flashes, and young players have been better than we've expected, but by and large, we've been little more than a burning trash heap. Is this down to Luis Gil? Hardly.
And that's about it. We're right back at the question. What do we do with Luis Gil?
Gil's contract, at last report, ends in 2015. Unless there's a clear indication that he's willing to stay in MLS — or interested in it, even — Real Salt Lake would have trouble finding a team to which to trade him. It's not out of the question, but with his substantial hit to the salary cap, finding another team for him comes down to a team being willing and able to take on the risk that he won't pan out for them, either.
And with his contract expiring in short order, it's even harder to find teams that are willing to pay a transfer fee for him — he's not going to be a piece that changes the fortunes of any team above him (and that's not a knock on Gil, but on the fact that he's a young, promising player and not a meaningful veteran) — especially with six months until he's available on a free.
But are we willing to give up on Gil so easily? Yes, he's had plenty of opportunity to play and develop, but he's also at a crucial point in his development, too. He's only 22, and while his six years with Real Salt Lake would seem to lend us an argument for expecting more out of him, if we're looking across the world, the very top rung of players often broke out at that age. Some later, some earlier, of course — but he's near where we could start to see him breaking out.
But that's a big maybe at this point. Maybe Gil needs a new atmosphere to develop fully. Maybe he needs to be learning from different colleagues. Real Salt Lake has changed significantly since he arrived, but the core group of players — Nick Rimando, Javier Morales, and Kyle Beckerman — remains the same.
Maybe it's a change of scenery Gil needs at this point. Maybe it's a kick in the pants. Maybe it's a new group of players around him, or maybe it's a new coaching staff. Maybe it's being given the freedom to develop without the pressure of winning first team matches.
Whatever's actually the case, all we're left with now are a bunch of "maybes."
I think we can all agree that we want Gil to continue developing, and that if he becomes the player everyone's pegged him to be, we want him to be here.
The question, though, becomes twofold: Can he motivate himself to become even a shadow of that player at Real Salt Lake, and can Real Salt Lake provide him the developmental support he needs?