EL PASO, Texas - In comparison with most kids his age, Diego Luna's summer job is pretty exciting. At 17 years old, he's the youngest player in El Paso Locomotive FC history.
He may be a bit out of place in a locker room of seasoned veterans but on the field, his talent is advance beyond his years.
Signed to a professional contract in April from the FC Barcelona Academy in Casagrande, AZ, Luna's long term potential is what has many around Locomotive excited. But it's his maturity that has earned Coach Mark Lowry's trust to play Luna in each of the team's opening two games.
“Physically, technically, but also mentally and that’s the difference," says Lowry of the young midfielder. "He has the mentality to go to the very top and we’re gonna help him do that."
"But he’s gonna have to earn it," Lowry added bluntly. "Because we’re here to win games.”
It's because of Luna that Locomotive FC is unbeaten, as his in-swinging cross in the 95th minute of their season opener vs. New Mexico United set up the game-tying goal to ensure a draw and a critical home point.
Luna made another appearance off the bench in the team's second game vs. Rio Grande Valley, and figures to see an increased role moving forward.
At 17, Luna is learning is to adjust to professional life as a young adult more quickly than others. He might be the only 17-year old kid who enjoys household chores.
"Dishes, laundry, cooking, cleaning up, taking the trash out, all that stuff," says Luna of his home responsibilities. "But it’s fun, maybe it’s just because I’m starting it but it’s fun right now.”
Since Diego is away from his family living on his own, his Locomotive FC teammates are all the more important. Luna has found an unlikely support system in 36-year midfielder Richie Ryan.
“I’m old enough to be his dad," Ryan chuckled.
But to young Diego, Richie in a way is exactly that.
“Like a dad or something like that, but it’s definitely that kind of bond because anything I need he will always help me or if he can’t do it he’ll find someone to help me,” says Luna of the Irish veteran midfielder.
Ryan, notoriously for his fiery playing style and vocal concerns with officiating, is an unlikely role model to the naked eye. But Richie, who has played professional soccer in both the United States and Europe, sees a younger version of himself.
“It gives me great satisfaction in it," says Ryan of his leadership role. "I think I’ve taken that role in the last few years of my career that I want to try and develop younger players and help them as much as I can.”
Culturally, Ryan and Luna differ in certain preferences like music.
“Absolutely not. It’s not something that’s in my phone at least," laughs Ryan of Luna's taste in tunes.
But on the field, the age is just a number. And if Luna continues to help Locomotive achieve, the calls for his name will only get louder.