FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – It was Carles Gil’s body of work over the course of a 34-game regular season that earned the 26-year-old playmaker Major League Soccer’s Newcomer of the Year award, but it didn’t take nearly as long for his New England Revolution teammates and coaches to realize he was special.
“It was long before his first game. It was when he first came in in preseason,” said Teal Bunbury. “You could tell (from) his touch. His calmness on the ball was something I figured out right away – he’s not scared to get (the ball) with 10 guys on him. He’ll dribble out of trouble. He’ll look for you.
“That sense of calmness with him, it’s unbelievable. It’s rare in players.”
Bruce Arena didn’t arrive until midseason – signing on as the Revs’ sporting director and head coach in mid-May – but he had a similar experience when Gil registered a pair of assists in Arena’s first game on the sidelines, a 2-1 road win over the LA Galaxy.
“He was pretty good that day, and it was pretty obvious that he was an outstanding player,” Arena said. “The thing about Carles is that he’s consistently good every game. Players have a tendency to be a little bit up and down, and Carles has played at an extremely high level each and every game.”
The statistics speak to that point. Gil started all 34 regular-season games, missing only eight minutes of league action. He led the team in both goals (10) and assists (14), becoming just the second player in Revolution history with double-digit goals and assists in a single season. He ranked second league-wide in chances created (107), and his 12 primary assists were tied for second-most in MLS.
But it’s impossible to fully grasp Gil’s impact in New England with statistics alone. He captained the side for the final 23 games of the season, and will guide them into their first playoff appearance in four years on Saturday afternoon in Atlanta.
Gil also led the welcoming committee for Gustavo Bou, who arrived in July and immediately identified Gil as not only an exceptional playmaker, but also a quality teammate.
“Right away, I knew Carles was a quality player,” said Bou (via interpreter), who finished fifth in MLS Newcomer of the Year voting after racking up nine goals and two assists in just 14 appearances. “He’s got that vision, that quality touch. Like we say in Argentina, that left leg is like a glove – he puts the ball wherever he wants it.
“Initially he was one of the first who kind of talked to me, and told me the ins and outs of the team and the city. Definitely him and I, since the beginning, we hit it off very well.”
Gil, to his credit, felt like welcoming Bou into the squad was simply returning the favor after he was made to feel so welcome by his teammates upon his arrival in late January. Joining a new team in a new country – and a new culture – can be jarring, and that adjustment has proven too much for more than a few quality players. But not for Gil.
That, he says, was because of how welcome he was made to feel in New England, and how much confidence the club put in him to be the type of player to lead them on and off the field.
“When I came here, they made me feel like an important part of the team,” Gil said via interpreter. “That was followed by them giving me the captain’s armband. Like any other player, when you’re given that confidence, when you’re given that trust to play well, I attribute that to how well I adapted.”
Arena called Gil “a playmaker in a day and age where there are very few of them,” but also praised the Spaniard’s willingness to do whatever is asked of him, whether that’s scoring goals, setting up others, or simply tracking back and putting in the work on the defensive side of the ball.
“He does whatever the game asks of him,” Arena said. “If that means he has to track a player back into the defensive third, he does that. You very rarely see that with players of Carles’ caliber. He’s got a great mentality to be a team player, as well as being an extremely talented player, as well.”
That talent earned Gil the league’s Newcomer of the Year award – joining recent winners like Zlatan Ibrahimovic (2018), Miguel Almiron (2017), Nicolos Lodeiro (2016), and Sebastian Giovinco (2015) – and Revolution fans are hoping that talent remains in New England for a long, long time.