USMNT hopeful: RSL's Diego Luna can "achieve some great things"


Diego Luna's stock continues to rise for Real Salt Lake, coinciding with their own rise up the Western Conference standings.

The Northern California native was a key figure for the United States during their run to the quarterfinals at the FIFA U-20 World Cup this spring. On Saturday, the midfielder's qualities were on display once more during a 3-1 win over the New York Red Bulls, his brace making him the youngest player in club history to register a multiple-goal effort.

And if it seems as though Luna's U-20 trip has helped him take a fresh approach to the game, that's because it has.

"I think it was a lot of confidence and a lot of stuff going through my head that was clogging me up," Luna said postgame. "What shows is when I'm free and I'm having fun playing, it shows who I really am, so I think that was something when I came back. I felt free and open to the game and relaxed and able to play."

That's led to plenty of praise from his head coach.

"His growth has been fantastic. The expectations aren't that he's going to score every game, but that he's going to do the work that the team requires in order to get success," said RSL manager Pablo Mastroeni.

Perseverance pays off

Luna carried high expectations upon signing for the USL Championship's El Paso Locomotive as a 17-year-old in April 2021, with his outstanding performances leading to a transfer to RSL in June 2022.

But Mastroeni hinted at difficulties for the 19-year-old during his initial adjustment to MLS, while pointing to Luna's "perseverance" as playing a massive part in helping him discover his current vein of form.

"I think the hardship that Luna went through, and then with a good U-20, put him in a position to dig in a little bit deeper," said Mastroeni.

Perhaps one example of digging deeper – or, in Mastroeni's terms, "the evolution of Diego Luna" – was a key moment to preserve the team's 2-2 draw on Wednesday against Sporting Kansas City.

"He gets played over the top, and he makes a tackle inside the six-yard box," Mastroeni said. "We can talk about all the attacking stuff, he's a very talented attacker, but when you commit to that kind of work, now you become a part of the team.

USMNT not far off?

Could Luna eventually find himself in the US men's national team discussion at some point? This season, he's currently on 3g/3a through 13 matches (seven starts). It doesn't hurt RSL are third in the Western Conference standings, within striking distance of the top of the table.

"He's got a great shot," said Mastroeni. "I think him being a part of this group, and the form that we're currently in, puts him in a great position to go into a January camp, and show Gregg [Berhalter] that he's more than capable of playing at that level."

While that path will take a consistent run of results, Luna's development has Mastroneni confident there's more to come.

"I think the ceiling is high for Luna. I think he can achieve some great things," said Mastroeni. "He's got a lot of tools that you can't teach. They're innate, like the way his brain works about soccer, the passes that he makes, the way he sees the game.

"... He's got a great perspective on what this game's all about, and he's showing it every day in training."