High-scoring Spaniard Nunez swayed by Bennett visit


Photo by Meredith Gillespie

Nunez scored his first goal as a Golden Eagle against Northwestern.

At the start of the season even men’s soccer head coach Louis Bennett needed a reminder that the team brought in 13 newcomers, not 13 freshmen. The technicality is Diego Nunez, a Spanish-born forward who was one of three late addition’s to Bennett’s recruiting class. What sets Nunez apart from the others is his two years at Alcala de Henares University. Nunez, who will have three years of soccer eligibility, was 20 when he arrived on campus.

“I am enjoying (the U.S.) a lot,” Nunez said. “The college life, how everything works, the residences. The people are really nice.”

Nunez was a point-producing machine at the U-19 level with RSD Alcala, scoring 25 goals and 25 assists in 58 games. That production earned him a call-up to the first team, which competed in the third division. He was one of four 19-year-old players. The rest were at least 25 years old.

“It was tough because it was another kind of locker room,” Nunez said. “I was on that team my whole life, so I knew all the players in the youth academy on my team.”

His production and skill at a showcase caught the eye of an NCAA-approved European scouting agent. He sent three or four videos to Bennett, who had confidence in the agency due to a handful of their players having success at American colleges.

Bennett travelled to Alcala de Henares to watch Nunez train, practice and play for a week after watching a possible recruit for 2018 in Serbia. Nunez had never had another coach go that far out of their way to watch him play.

“I couldn’t believe that he would come from the USA and cross the ocean to come see me,” Nunez said.

“I had to go face-to-face to see what kind of feeling I got from him,” Bennett said. “Because he was a transfer student, I wanted to make sure he was at our standard. … Just like with everyone else, we have to make sure when we invite someone to be on our squad they’re of that standard.”

Nunez hasn’t worked his way into a consistent starting role yet. He’s started in two of his six appearances, but didn’t find the pitch in Marquette’s game against Villanova. A few minor injuries have slowed him down.

He showed a flash of brilliance on his first goal against Northwestern in September. After starting a fast break with a pass to Toby Howell, he sprinted from midfield into the box, positioning himself perfectly to volley Howell’s cross into the net.

“Perfect timing,” Bennett said. “He’s been bounced a couple of times because of injury, but our hope is that he’ll acclimate and get fit and healthy before the end of the season.”

That chance is one of two shots on goal for him this season. If he can time a few more runs like that, it will be tough for Bennett to keep him on the bench.

“I don’t think I’ve played at my best level, but I think I can improve in time,” Nunez said. “I would like to preserve the ball more and be more creative in the last third to score more goals.”