Diego Lainez's first start with the Mexico national team is something he'll never forget. Even if the Club America starlet doesn't bloom into a full-blown star during his career, El Tri fans will never forget it either thanks to a pair of incredible moments in Tuesday's 1-0 loss to the United States.
The first was when he put Wil Trapp on the ground, shifting past the American midfielder who couldn't keep up with the 18-year-old as he entered the box and then got to the line with a remarkable cut-back.
The second was when Matt Miazga nearly put him on the ground.
The diminutive Lainez battled with Eric Lichaj and other U.S. defenders all night, but the matchup was far less sporting when he mixed it up with the center back.
Lainez and Miazga jawed at each other while the defender made gestures about Lainez's small size. He later mimed looking for the winger before Lainez's America and Mexico teammate Edson Alvarez came in to tell the Nantes defender to pick on someone his own size.
"It’s something that happens in soccer. A little run-in. It’s nothing," Lainez said of the incident. "It’s something that’s totally normal." Miazga also used the word "normal" when reflecting on the play, saying "It's normal. We talked a little smack. It's part of the game."
It's not Lainez's first taste of a rivalry, but it's the first time he's experienced that kind of thing on the international stage. Mexico interim manager Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti said it's something that even could benefit the player long-term. "It helps him. He’s going to remember that the rest of his life and know how to do better the next times," the interim manager said.
It's a funny, harmless moment, especially with both players accepting it and moving on, but American fans might not be laughing for long if Lainez continues to develop into a threat.
He showed what he's capable of doing. Lainez completed 22 of 23 passes in the match, including the one he sent to Roberto Alvarado after skinning Trapp. The Cruz Azul attacker couldn't take advantage of the move, but it was an incredible moment.
Now he needs minutes.
"We have to keep pushing, forming them and keep giving them the chances that they deserve," Ferretti said of young players after Tuesday's match. "How will they deserve it? By going back to their clubs and showing their level that they really deserve to be in the national team with whoever else is there.
"But from what I saw with the young players against Uruguay and today, I’m satisfied with what they showed."
Getting club minutes is necessary, and Lainez knows it. To return to the national team in October, the Tabasco native said he needs to "keep doing things well with my club and then the people in charge will make that decision."
Yet despite positive performances with Club America, Lainez has struggled for consistency. With America manager Miguel Herrera hesitant to give the teenager a regular starting spot, that's been tough to come by. He's too talented of a player to keep out, though. Even when El Tri's top players return, it will be difficult for Ferretti or whoever takes over the Mexico job to leave Lainez off the 23-man squad.
The result was frustrating for Mexico, but it won't go beyond that. While this is the start of the new World Cup cycle for El Tri, it's a game that a number of players sure to be key during the upcoming four years watched from home (if they watched at all, with the time zone working against the Europe-based players).
The taste of defeat to a rival will fade over time for the next generation. Lainez will always be able to look back and smile on a night in which he gave plenty of reason to believe he too will be key in the near future.
"I think these games helped a lot, since I’m a young player. It was a great experience and hopefully I keep getting them," he said. "I’m happy that the manager included me, that we did things well. Now it’s about continuing on this path."