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Diego Luna’s first MLS brace continues “fantastic growth” with Real Salt Lake


19-year-old Diego Luna is continuing to find his way with Real Salt Lake during the 2023 MLS season and although Pablo Mastroeni has plenty of veteran attackers to call on to lead his attack, it was Luna who paved the way to three points on Saturday night.

Luna became the youngest RSL play to register a multi-goal performance as RSL claimed a 3-1 home victory over the New York Red Bulls at Rio Tinto Stadium. The 19-year-old winger scored twice for RSL before Jefferson Savarino’s late goal served as insurance in RSL’s 10th league win of the season.

Luna served as one of the U.S. Under-20 men’s national team’s key performers this spring as Mikey Varas’ squad reached the quarterfinals for a fourth-straight tournament. Now as Luna continues his 2023 schedule with a surging RSL squad, the young attacker and his head coach credited his U-20 World Cup involvement for helping him improve at club level.

“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 to reporters. “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.”

“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. “He gets played over the top, and he makes a tackle inside the six-yard box. 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.”

Luna had to wait for his opportunity with RSL, featuring with Real Monarchs in MLS NEXT Pro and El Paso Locomotive in the USL Championship before enjoying a larger first team role this season. After 13 MLS appearances in 2022, Luna has already tied that mark in 2023, while also adding three goals and one assist in seven starts.

His cleverness and final-third awareness were on display on Saturday as the homegrown attacker scored twice inside of the Red Bulls box, on two different offensive scenarios. Luna’s goalscoring and playmaking abilities will only continue to grow as the current season rolls on, while RSL has Cristian Arango, Damir Kreilach, Danny Musovski, and Savarino to also carry the load.

“His growth has been fantastic,” Mastroeni said about Luna’s growth from 2021 to now. “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.”

“I think the ceiling is high for Luna,” Mastroeni added. “I think he can achieve some great things. 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.”

Luna is one of several young attacking talents that could have a future with the USMNT if he continues on his current developmental path. Several of Luna’s USMNT U-20 teammates such as Paxten Aaronson, Jalen Neal, and Cade Cowell have all made their senior debuts in recent months, and remain on the radar with Gregg Berhalter returning as head coach.

He might have to wait for his opportunity, just like he did with Real Salt Lake, but Mastroeni believes Luna can become a senior national team player in this current pool of players.

“He’s got a great shot,” said Mastroeni about Luna’s USMNT potential. “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.”


  1. Talented kid. Really enjoy watching his game. What does he project at the USMNT level? Hard to tell. I think there are many young attackers who are coming up. Luna, P.Aaronson, Cowell, Clark, Paredes, and Booth are all very similar type of players. They like to operate centrally and can play out wide. Paredes maybe a bit more of a wing merchant, but Wolfsburg has played him as a CAM too. Cowell is more of wing/ forward. P. Aaronson is a bit more of a goal scorer than he is an assist man. Clark and Booth look to be more assist merchants than scorers. Luna looks to have an equal amount of a scorer and assist man in him, and he does combine with players really well. But I do agree there needs to be cover at CAM for Gio.

    Really excited to continue to watch these young guys develop.

  2. The 10 in Gregg’s current system hasn’t existed because he pushes the FBs so high that the two CMs then have to widen out and cover for them leaving the Ws to serve as de facto 10s from tucked in positions. This has also led to Adams having to try to facilitate out of the middle (not good) or the striker dropping in (also not so good). If he holds one of the FBs back (as we did more against Canada in NL) then one of the 8s can be more central and be more like a 10. But either way that player has to want to defend.

    • J.R.
      Yeah… it was kind of concerning seeing that system come to the fore once again in GC. Versus decent opponents, the familiar flaccid, slog through the mud matches that mirrored last cycle. Completely different level of players, but we saw just how easy it was for Canada to effectively shut down that approach. For the love of everything holy and football Gregg…. puleeeeease? LoL

      • The Mexico match in NL was the exact same setup we used in the GC. Speed of play and ability to turn with the ball big differences. Watch Gio, Yunus, CP, Timo and Wes they are receiving and turning almost every time no one on the GC roster was consistently trying to go forward. They weren’t sure so it was sideways or backwards. Canada NL was a bit different because of Davies and probably Scally’s skill set to Dest’s.

      • Yeah- Balogun alone makes a significant difference with his runs/threat in behind, ability to hold up, ability to volley a cross.

  3. Those 2 goals looked impressive. First on a great position (in front of the defender) and timed strike. The second, chip of the goalie was outstanding. Our front men in the Gold Cup would have slammed it into the face of the goalie.

  4. Love seeing it…. stoked he’s fought his way into the lineup. Diego’s definitely got the sauce… the 2nd goal was so composed. If Mastroeni can solidify the workrate you start to see real value, possibilities finding a role off the bench with the NT. Getting to the point where it’s going to take more than just effort or just skill to make the team… bring both. Without mentioning names- the days of 1 dimensional grinders is hopefully waning.

    • Luna’s a really unique player and he doesn’t really compare to many guys you see elsewhere in soccer. He’s nothing like Gio Reyna in terms of build or style but he’s still a pure 10 though he plays the spot in an utterly different way than Gio does.

      I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anybody who can just bump and weave through traffic right up the middle of the field quite like Luna does, and his ability to progress the ball in the hardest spot of the field to operate really catches the eye every time I see him play. He’s an uncanny passer too and his ability to combine with other teammates and bring them into the game is like nobody else the US has either.

      I have no idea what his ceiling is because frankly there’s really nobody to compare him to…he could end up being an oddity that doesn’t ever really find his niche at the top levels, but I could also see him one day becoming the lynchpin for a team like Barca or Real Madrid or Man City too; guys who can operate in the center channel and especially in the box amidst a sea of defenders are unicorns.

      You also hear guys who have played with him literally raving about his technical ability and ability to hit the ball perfectly and with either foot, and even more about his vision and ability to think faster than anyone else on the field.

      Definitely a guy to watch, for sure.

      • Nice quozzel
        Agreed, very unique player- especially in our pool that brings something our team sometimes sorely lacks. He’s the sort of off-beat, creative character that has the audacity and guile to try things, do the unexpected- make something out of nothing. If his trajectory continues, in the shorter term he could be just the kind of player to bring off the bench to inject some life… break a team out of a predictable, systematic, mechanistic rut… open up a bunkered team. That this type of player is so against the grain of joystick manager GB’s over-cooked vision of the game has me curious as to whether he will see his value. Hoping so… that Diego continues his growth and reaches his full potential.

      • In the post match presser, Diego described the second goal and he said “I just felt like I had a lot of time so I just picked out my spot.” He had like a half a second!
        In his presser today Pablo was asked about Diego and the NT and he pumped the brakes a little saying you know he’s competing with Pulisic, Reyna and Weah so let’s not rush things. He said what a NT coach looks for is consistency “ they don’t want a 10 level performance one match and 3 the next, they want 7s and 8s everytime.” He said Diego’s defensive work rate has really improved mentioned he thought his biggest play against RB Saturday was a slide tackle in the box to help preserve the victory. He thought January camp would be a good place for Luna to debut.
        Diego is probably my favorite young player (I don’t miss watching him playing on the baseball field in El Paso.), but I’m glad he wasn’t on the GC roster he needed a solid run with RSL to really get settled. I think he’ll hopefully be with the Olympic team this fall and then if he’s still in form get his first cap in January.

      • rico-

        RSL was technically playing him as a LW but he’s a very tucked-in one most of the time…as IV aptly put it: “a 10 is as a 10 does”. I don’t hate that spot for him but if he was my guy I’d personally want him lining up in the middle touching the ball as often as he could. In an ideal world you want him combining with Pulisic, not battling him for minutes, since one of his best attributes is his ability to bring other guys into the game. Luna attracts a lot of attention and draws defenders to him. That translates into a lot more space for Pulisic.

        Let’s face it, though: even if Gregg finally caves and admits we need a creative force in the middle of the park and kisses and makes up with Gio and starts going with him as a 10, Gio is still going to be out a lot. We really need three guys for that spot and we need to be able to take what we can get out of Gio since I suspect health will always be an issue with him. Right now in this hypothetical world where Gregg embraces creativity and just lets his composers compose and goes with an actual 10 backed by a double pivot, which is what our personnel is really suited for, Ferreira is probably Gio’s backup. There’s still a big “help wanted” sign out at the position because we need that third guy since he’s likely going to see a whole lot of call-ups, and we’ll have Gio when we have him. I’d probably go “why wait?” and decide the future with Luna was now and I’d start trying to work him in.

        I’m…highly dubious Gregg sees it the same way, though. Maybe he’ll surprise us.

      • Q: in the presser I mentioned earlier Diego was asked about his position. He said (paraphrasing) he still feels he’s a 10 and is more comfortable there but has liked being isolated on defenders as a wing and feels playing there will make him a better 10 because he understands better how to play with the wings.

    • It’s very early but assuming Diego proves he operate at a high enough level, we’ll see if Gregg can figure out how best to integrate him.

      He’s unique but right now, if there is a player in his way it would be Ferreira.

      • Vacqui-
        Ferreira is a bit of a hybrid…not a striker but false 9-ish, who can do a decent job at the 10 in a pinch or play on the wing if need be. Sort of a jack of all trades, master of none. I like him, think there’s mayyyybe a place, but IMHO his ceiling puts him on the fringes of the national team and were its headed, quite possibly on the outside. Still young enough to improve- hopefully he proves me wrong. He’s definitely still a work in progress, but Diego is a 10 with the potential to be a very good one. He tightens up his work/defense and continues to progress- I do think he could be Gio’s backup at 10 as well as an option on the wing in the right situations. So gratifying to begin to see a variety of options come together. 100% our talent pool caters to playing with a 10. Gregg, his vision, adaptability, whether or not he sees this has a lot to do with us stagnating or taking another step forward this cycle.

      • rico po,

        To clarify, you’re right, those two are quite different in terms of what they bring but Ferreira right now has seniority and has most favored player status..

        One thing about Gregg, if you get that status it takes a long time to fall out of it.

        Gregg seems to have adopted him as a pet project and is bound and determined to cram him into the program until he becomes an integral part of it.

        This is similar to how Michael Bradley became MB90. Put Michael first on the team sheet and then build your side from there.

        Ferreira, Roldan, Long……and then you go from there for the remaining 22.

        I don’t have a problem with this methodology if you are certain that the player, at the end of the “cramming ” process merits his inclusion. Whether Jesus merits that status, I guess we will see. In baseball he would be what they call a utility player, a second baseman who can play all the infield postions and a little bit bit of left field

        Neither of them merit first team status at this time and neither of them is a like for like replacement for any of the guys we think of as starters i.e. Flo, Pepi, Gio, Weah, Pulisic, or Weston.

        Personally I’d love to see what a “grown up” Luna could do together with Gio. SBI generally despise Gio because of his parents and his occasional shitbag diva behavior and that makes people forget what he can do but I like arrogant players with attitude and a chip on their shoulder.

        Luna is unpredictable and unselfconsciously arrogant on the field as well, meaning I think he’ll try to walk the ball into the net every chance he gets..

        I can’t see Gregg liking that.

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