Age at MLS Cup: 22
Hometown: Nicoya, Costa Rica
ALL COMPETITIONS IN 2020:
A “young designated player” who join the Crew on July 2, 2019 from C.S. Herediano in Costa Rica, Diaz provided one of the most memorable moments in MLS Cup 2020. Less than a week after his 22nd birthday, his rush up the right flank, withstanding the brunt of an attempted tackle before turning the corner and dishing off the assist on Lucas Zelarayan’s game-sealing goal, was the total package. His speed and strength make him an exciting player whenever he gets the ball, and his service greatly improved in 2020. He undoubtedly left his mark with the 2020 champs, and the scary part is that his best is likely yet to come.
THROUGH JOSH’S EYES
“Lucho, man, what a thoroughbred. I think of him as like a finely-tuned horse. Once he gets in space, I swear he runs with a smile on his face. I know I would if I could run like that. I wouldn’t even buy a car. I would just run everywhere.
“He’s learning English, and the more he learns, the more I feel like I get to go at him. And we’re always going at it with banter and stuff. He’s picking up on English sayings, and I want him to keep learning because he might be a little shy because of the language barrier. I have no idea what it’s like to be away from home like that. I think the more success we’ve had as a team and the more success he has had individually, the more he’s opened up. He’s a very funny guy, but he’s more reserved, and I feel like the more he’s been around our team, the more he trusts us and the more fun he has.
“This year, you saw his performances and his role take off as the season wore on, and then once we got to the playoffs, he was almost impossible to defend at times. He would get the ball and everyone in the stadium knew what was going to happen. It was push it down the line, maybe one feint inside, and then a bigger push. I don’t think there’s anybody in the league that can keep up with that guy if there’s space in front of him.
“I love Lucho. He’s just a great guy and an exceptional talent. If you want to unsettle a defense, he’s the ultimate unsettler. To have Pedro or Derrick on one side, and Derrick is another guy with pace, but to have Lucho running at you for 60 or 70 minutes, or to have a Pedro or a Youness on one side where they can cut in but then you have Lucho on the other side stretching the defense, or pinning the left back deep and making it so he can’t get forward because he has to respect his pace, he’s such a key piece for us.
“It’s almost like he can invite contact because he’s strong enough that even if you make contact, he’s not going to go down. And he’s one of those guys where, as the saying goes, once’s he’s even, he’s leavin’. But he’s got such strong legs that he knows that once the contact happens, the advantage is his now. I mean, how many times have we seen it? Re-watching that last goal (in MLS Cup), he pushes it and pushes it and the guy dives in and hits Lucho’s legs, and he goes down but Lucho doesn’t go down. But I think what takes him to the next stage is what he does after all that. It’s what happens after he gets by a guy. It’s the patience and the calmness to run at the next guy, cut one way, and then play a nice ball to Lucas. And then Lucas is able to make a positive first touch and it’s game over.
“I think Lucho’s game will only get better from here. His ability to run is always going to be there, and now he has the calmness and the ability to finish a run and deliver the final product. He showed all year what type of ability he has and then he really put it all together at the end of the year. It was awesome to see. I think whenever he gets the ball, the whole stadium is almost giddy because they know what’s coming.
“I don’t think people give him enough credit for this, but he’s hit some really great balls. I can think of last year in Cincinnati and then the one he hit to G earlier this year in Seattle when we played them the first time. And then Nashville. So he’s got the ability to whip in a ball that’s almost earlier than you expect, like when Steph Curry is shooting outside the defense’s range. The defense is getting set and then Lucho is whipping a ball on the ground behind the defense. I think him and G have a very good connection where G almost beats a guy to the near post and then slips back post. And if the ball is right, as a defender, I understand that if it is hit with pace, you can’t make up for the angle because G is so fast and the ball is coming at an angle that is bending into his run, so you can’t get back there. He’s done that a couple of times and I don’t think he gets enough credit for that. I think he has a very good ability to whip in balls that a defense isn’t prepared for.”
“And he has that ability to continually run at guys. Guys are fighting for their lives trying to defend this guy and he just has this calm look on his face like he’s not even running hard. To have a guy like that on the field, it just gives you confidence.”
[NOTE: To see a clickable list of earlier installments of this Josh Williams series or other MLS Cup related posts, please click HERE.]
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