SANDY — Even though Real Salt Lake's Luis Gil has been a well-known, popular player with the team for a year and a half, it wasn't until Saturday night the 17-year-old truly had his moment.
Popular because of his vast potential, the midfielder from Garden Grove, Calif., scored his first Major League Soccer goal in a 3-0 RSL shellacking of the New York Red Bulls at home.
Real coach Jason Kreis says that Gil, who was an important part of the U.S. Youth National Team before joining RSL (10-5-6, 36 pts), has remained patient — and hungry.
"Luis is a kid that has worked extremely hard for us now for a year and a half," Kreis said. "He's done an extremely good job of keeping his head down and not listening to other people around him telling him that he should be playing all the time. But instead he's just improved his game, and improved his game and improved his game."
Gil's goal came at a crucial time, with RSL up 1-0 and less than a minute from halftime. It proved to be a huge deflating-factor for the Red Bulls, (6-6-12, 30 pts) who already didn't have much to offer on Saturday.
Real captain Kyle Beckerman intercepted a pass and directed it to Gil, who settled the ball, then made a quick turn and sent a rocket from about 22 yards out that caught New York goalkeeper Frank Rost off-guard and went into the right side of the net.
"I got a good first touch," Gil said, describing the goal. "I was just thinking that I couldn't let this one go. I was thinking, 'get it on target. Make something out of it.' If it would be a rebound or corner — just make something happen."
Saturday's game marked Gil's fifth start this season, but his first in an attacking position. Fans are hoping that his success against New York is only the beginning, and Kreis hopes so, too.
"Now he's ready for the moment. It was great to see him take advantage of it tonight," Kreis said.
But even with the excitement of the night — Gil's breakthrough performance and the end of RSL's first two-game losing streak in 44 games — Kreis still spoke in a cautionary tone.
"It wasn't a perfect performance, and we need to be completely honest about that as well," Kreis said. "The goal that he struck was fantastic, but there are some tactical things that we need to talk through and improve upon before the next match."