At 19 years old Real Salt Lake Homegrown midfielder, Diego Luna has the world at his feet.
This offseason, he’s shooting for the moon.
Affectionately nicknamed “Moon Boy” during his time with El Paso Locomotive FC, the teenager from Sunnyvale, California has launched his career into orbit, becoming one of the most exciting young players in both Major League Soccer and U.S. Youth National Team pools.
This is On The Rise: Diego Luna.
Luna's journey in El Paso began in April 2021 when he signed his first professional contract at the age of seventeen, becoming an instant hit near the Rio Grande. He established himself as not only one of the USL Championships best young players, but one of the league's best players. During the 2021 season, Luna recorded nine goals and five assists which led to him being named to the USL Championship All-League Second Team and nominated for the USL Championship’s Young Player of the Year award.
The teenager then picked up where he left off in the 2022 USL Championship season, collecting four goals and two assists in only 10 matches. Luna's performances at El Paso caught the attention of RSL and clubs across the world who would compete for the young midfielder’s signature. One June 2, 2022, Luna would make the move from West Texas to the Wasatch Mountain Range signing for Real Salt Lake as a Homegrown player for what was at the time the largest transfer in USL Championship history.
“I believe Real Salt Lake is a historic club with an amazing and vibrant fan base; I am grateful for the faith RSL has in me and my abilities, and I look forward to contributing to the team,” Luna said during his first 24 hours in Utah.
"It was the right move for my career. I will forever be grateful to El Paso for giving me my first professional contract, and the opportunity to showcase myself as I face new challenges.”
VIDEO: Diego Luna's First Interview with RSL
He would quickly make his debut with RSL and the Real Monarchs, before jumping on a plane for Honduras to join his U.S. Youth National Team teammates at the U-20 CONCACAF Championship.
Luna’s talents would be on full display, helping lead his country to the tournament title while leading the competition with five assists.
“I think it was something super special and something I'm going to carry with me the rest of my life,” Luna said.
“I got the call up and then went to win the tournament and we qualified for the Olympics and U-20 World Cup. It was pretty cool doing something for a lot of people, not just for myself, but for the country.”
Back with RSL, Luna would get his first start for the Club against Atlanta United on July 14 playing the first 45 minutes of the match. He’d make 10 more appearances before his next start against Austin FC on September 15 and he made the most of it. Named Real Salt Lake's Man of the Match, the young midfielder led the team in shots with four while consistently setting up scoring chances for his teammates and impressing with his skill on the ball.
Luna would start in the next match against FC Cincinnati and come off the bench against LA Galaxy before his rookie season was cut short due to an ankle injury.
Throughout the 2022 season, Luna’s direct style of play and knack for creating chances for his teammates made him a favorite among fans who’d cheer his inclusion as a creative spark off the bench. Luna credits playing against grown men in the USL Championship at the age of 17 for giving him the confidence to be fearless out on the pitch.
“I think playing in El Paso was a big step for me,” Luna said. “Coming to MLS, I already had that kind of mentality. I'm not scared. That's my thing. What makes me special is what I can do on the ball, my soccer IQ and my creativity. I think that's something I need to strive for to be my strength and keep pushing for that.”
Luna made 13 MLS appearances in total during his maiden MLS season impressing both the fans, coaching staff and his teammates. If 2022 was the launchpad, then Luna and RSL hope that 2023 will be the year that he takes off.
On most days during the 2022 offseason, you’ll find Luna at the Zions Bank Training Facility. While some players have opted to go home and train there during their well deserved break, Luna opted to stay in Utah to continue to refine his game.
“I'm here [at the practice facility] almost every day, we have a couple days off, but I'm here almost every day,” Luna said.
"This next season's going to be one where I want to play in my role as the 10, score goals, get my teammates goals and create chances for my team. What I was doing in El Paso, I know I can do it here. I just wanna bring all that I was doing there and bring it here. I think that's gonna come with a little bit of time.”
The role of a number 10 is that of a playmaker. Typically playing beneath the striker with wingers on each side, it’s the 10’s job to create chances for their teammates and be a fulcrum of the attack.
Major League Soccer has proven to be a league where 10’s can dominate games with players like FC Cincinnati's Luciano Acosta, Minnesota United’s Emanuel Reynoso and Nashville SC’s 2022 Landon Donovan MLS MVP Hany Mukhtar becoming some of the best chance creators in the league.
Real Salt Lake head coach, Pablo Mastroeni believes Diego could one day reach those same heights.
“I’ve had quite a few conversations with Diego, and been really clear with the way I see it, which is that he is going to be one of the best 10’s in this league but it’s not going to happen overnight,” Mastroeni said.
And while the 10 is often seen as a player who contributes most of their effort on the offensive side of the ball rather than the defensive side of the ball, this offseason, Luna is still focusing on the latter.
“Something I'm trying to work on is my defensive work rate, it’s something that I just need to work on,'' Luna said. “I think on the attacking side of things, I know what I can do. I know the things that are needed from me. I just need to organize the defensive part of my game tactically.”
This tenacity to get better and improve his all around game has been noticed by the veterans on the team, including RSL’s 2022 assist leader, Justin Meram.
“He's got incredible potential,” Meram said. “I think he's a very talented, humble kid, with a great personality who I think we all love around here. For him this year, he’ll have a true pre-season with the team and it's all for him to fight for it and earn those minutes. He's for sure more than capable of doing that.”
As Luna continues to prepare for his first full season with the Club, the eyes of RSL and U.S. Men’s National Team fans alike will be on him.
2023 stands as a chance for “Moon Boy” to put himself among the stars by taking off on the pitch. For now, he’s in Herriman getting ready for lift off.