RSL player opens up about recent mental health struggles

Diego Luna says he hasn’t played well this season, and that he’s working through some things “outside of soccer.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake midfielder Diego Luna (26), celebrates with Real Salt Lake defender Justen Glad (15) and defender Bryan Oviedo (3) after kicking the winning goal during a shoot-out, in MLS soccer action between Houston Dynamo and Real Salt Lake, at America First Field, in Sandy, on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023.

Real Salt Lake forward Diego Luna came into the 2024 season with something to prove.

He was called up by the U.S. Men’s National Team to participate in a camp in January after coming off a season where he not only became a starter, but a fan favorite and something of a savior during the team’s 2023 playoff run.

The club rewarded Luna’s rise with a contract extension earlier this month that goes through 2026 with team options in 2027 and 2028. But even he would admit that he hasn’t played up to his expectations.

In four games this season, Luna has yet to score a goal and has just one assist. He traveled overseas with the U.S. Under-23 Olympic team earlier this month where he subbed in against Guinea but did not play against France.

Luna was back training with RSL on Friday and was candid about his experience during the Olympic camp.

“If it’s not the best camp for you or anything like that, you got to take away the positive,” Luna said. I think that’s where the mental side comes in. It’s difficult, right? You’re upset and there’s a lot of things going on. ... I didn’t perform my best.”

Luna said that, in his view, he hasn’t been performing well all season. He attributed that to things he’s been dealing with “outside of soccer.”

“Everybody goes up and down in life and everyone has their issues,” Luna said. “So I think it’s about finding that positive mindset.”

Luna said being away at the U-23 camp ended up serving as “a little break from the mindset of being at the club” and what he termed as “I have to do this, I have to do this.”

“I think it was good to be away and come back,” Luna said. “Around everything else around soccer, just take a break from it. Being in that time difference, just having your alone time and stuff like that, it was good to just zone out and kind of be open to myself and realize what’s going on with myself.”

Luna didn’t specify what he’s been dealing with off the field. But he spoke openly about how he finds support when he’s having mental health struggles and offered a full-throated endorsement of mental health for athletes in general.

“Mental health is the hardest thing, and what drops pros and what makes pros, I think,” Luna said. “For me, I have my own therapist. I have people I talk to. I have my oldest brother, Armando — that’s someone who I talk to about all my difficult problems and he gives me advice. Sometimes not on my side, right? But he’s really real with me and tells me the truth about everything. ...

“Getting a therapist and sports psychiatrist and all these things. I think people need to look into it and not be afraid of. I think that’s something that’s very important.”