It has taken only 102 Liga MX minutes, but that has been enough to generate a rush of curiosity that runs through the entire country. Diego Lainez's emergence in the Club America squad has lightened up the spirits in camp and in Week 12, Las Aguilas are zeroing in on a playoff spot after a 2017 Clausura start that included back-to-back losses. By the way, Lainez is only 16 years old; he'll turn 17 in June.
The crowd at Estadio Olimpico Universitario was surprised when they saw an America player, wearing jersey No. 340, warming up with the starters that were going to participate in another edition of the Clasico Capitalino. Lainez's first start took place in a heated Clasico that America went on to win 3-2, but what stood out during his 56 minutes on the field was his fearless attitude. Every time he got on the ball, nobody could stop him. Pumas' defenders were like cones in his way, as he flew past them with the ball tightly glued to his left boot.
After America's 1-1 draw against Leon in Week 9, America head coach Ricardo La Volpe explained to the media in Leon's Nou Camp why he decided to give the 16-year-old native of Villahermosa, Tabasco, his league debut. "He's a youngster we're going to take little by little. We're not debuting him because we just want to debut youngsters. Sometimes you debut youngsters and they don't reach their maximum potential, but he's a great academy player.
"I know a lot of reports about him are going to come out; he's going to generate a lot of attention because he's 16 years old. It's not going to be easy to control all that attention on him, but I will try to help him through it, as his parents will do as well.
"I'm going to be like his father while we're on the pitch. We had great conversations and I told him that I will give him minutes little by little. He's intelligent, a player that destabilizes defenses and has a strong character. He's demonstrated to me that he's conscientious about what it means to play for America. Tonight with the 45 minutes I gave him, he was the player that had the best take-ons and gave a lot of clarity to our attack."
Lainez's emergence in one of Mexico's most historic clubs could follow a similar path to the one Christian Pulisic has taken at Borussia Dortmund. They're footballers with similar qualities, but it's Pulisic, 18, who is already playing on the grandest of stages. La Volpe told Nacion ESPN that Lainez is ready for a move to Europe as well, but that might wait, especially after taking into account that at the moment America lacks homegrown idols. With work and patience, Lainez could immediately become a fan favorite at Estadio Azteca.
Although Lainez was on the verge of playing for Pachuca, a club that has developed players like Hirving "Chucky" Lozano, Erick Gutierrez and Rodolfo Pizarro -- all of whom made their league debuts at 18 -- the attacker has been an Americanista since childhood.
"I used to watch them on TV," he began to narrate how he became an America fan to TDN's Zona Aguila. "I liked the team, and how it scored its goals. It was the team that always had possession of the ball. For example, they had great players like Cuauhtemoc [Blanco] and [Salvador] Cabanas. All these details got my attention and made me want to play for America."
Lainez made the move from Pachuca's academy to America's at the age of 13. When he went to America's training grounds to try out, Lainez was first spotted by Jesus "Chucho" Ramirez, who in 2005 led Mexico's Under-17s to a World Cup win. Since that moment when he first stepped into America's Casa Club, Lainez has undertaken a formidable development process that has included time with America's multiple youth levels and Mexico's youth national teams.
He awaits the opportunity to represent Mexico in this year's U17 World Cup, while Pulisic has already established himself as the U.S.'s No. 10 in World Cup qualifying. But if the talented Mexican attacker is able to build on the maturity he has shown in the past month, in two to three years' time, his name could be included in the senior national team conversation.
"Since I was a little kid, I would always set up goals to accomplish and one of them was that I wanted to become an architect, but I have to analyze all of my options," Lainez recently stated. At the moment, he's been the architect of a young career that could go far beyond just playing for his favorite club.