FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Asked about the importance of having Carles Gil fully healthy on day one of preseason, Teal Bunbury smiled wryly before beginning his answer.
Of course, anyone with so much as a moderate interest in Major League Soccer is well aware of Carles Gil, who registered 10 goals and 14 assists en route to MLS Newcomer of the Year honors in 2019, and who captained the Revs to an Eastern Conference Final appearance last season with two goals and three assists in four playoff games. He is the engine that drives New England, and since arriving from Spain’s Segunda División two years ago, he has proven to be a special player time and time again.
“We describe him a little bit as our playmaker,” sporting director and head coach Bruce Arena said of Gil. “He’s an excellent player on the ball. He’s a very good passer. He slows the game down for us when it needs to be slowed down, and can play with speed, as well. He’s an experienced player, a good teammate, and obviously we know he makes our team better when he’s on the field.”
Unfortunately for Gil and the Revs, he wasn’t on the field much in 2020. He made just two appearances at the MLS is Back Tournament before undergoing surgery to debride his left Achilles tendon in early August, sidelining him for the vast majority of the regular season. Gil returned – ahead of schedule – in late October and made four regular season appearances before his magical playoff run.
The difference with Gil in the mix was marked. In his eight starts last season, including the playoffs, New England went 5-2-1. In the other 21 games they went 7-7-7, and that’s why the Revs are so excited to see Gil healthy and ready to go as 2021 preseason preparations have kicked off in Foxborough.
“I’m on record saying that I think we have, if not the top player in MLS, one of the top players in MLS,” goalkeeper Matt Turner said of Gil. “You saw what he meant to our team down the stretch last year. He’s a guy that produces day in and day out, and I’m not just talking about in the games when the lights are on. He comes to training every day, he works hard, and he’s a great example for the younger guys on the team that he’s a product of hard work.”
“Last year, I had a major injury and I missed a lot of games, but so far I find myself in a good place both physically and mentally,” Gil said via translator. “We’re only two days in, but we’re starting to feel good after being away for so long. It won’t be easy, but I feel good.”
Having played just 10 competitive matches in the past 16 months, Gil acknowledged that the next seven weeks of preseason will be critical for his progression, particularly as the Revs head to Los Angeles later this month for continued training and a series of exhibition games.
Those preparations will build the foundation for Gil to enter 2021 in peak physical shape, as he sets his sights on the MLS Cup trophy that narrowly escaped the Revs’ grasp this past December.
“I’m very hopeful this year and I have a lot of expectations, both individually and collectively for the team,” Gil said. “It’s very important to have a good preseason. It’s only been two days so far, but we feel very good. Hopefully we can continue that for the next few weeks here and carry it into Los Angeles so that we’re all in the best position possible to have a good year.
“Personally, my goals are to help the team. I think we all want to win a trophy. Last year we came close, and we’re trying to exceed that [this year]. I think that should be our goal.”