After having only two appearances and a start in the 2018 season, junior goalkeeper Nico Campuzano from Cantabria, Spain is turning heads in his second year playing for the University of Portland men’s soccer team. The junior has had two clean sheets against Colgate University and George Washington University, and a total of nine saves in the 2019 season.
Born in Santander, a port city in the province of Cantabria, Campuzano started playing soccer at an early age. Most kids in his hometown would go out to the streets and start kicking around a ball, looking to the greats of the sport that dominates their country. He grew up looking to the Spanish professionals for inspiration, including Iker Casillas, goalkeeper for Real Madrid, and trying to learn from them.
While he spent much of his childhood running out to play with his friends, he convinced his parents to sign him up for a team at the age of 8, when he started playing competitively.
He went on to play some time with Real Racing Club de Santander and Real Valladolid in northern Spain. At 16 years old, FC Barcelona recruited Campuzano to play for the U-18 team, and he stayed with the academy in La Masía from 2014 to 2016. Then, he played with UD Las Palmas in the island of Gran Canaria from 2017 to 2018.
Campuzano left semi-pro play to join the Pilots last year, wanting to study computer science in the U.S. while continuing his soccer career. But he had to wait to prove himself on the field. That wait has allowed him to start three of the four games this regular 2019 season, while giving him the opportunity to continue practicing and growing with his UP teammates.
“The experience of belonging to a group of student-athletes reduces the selfishness you see inside semi-professional teams while keeping the competition high, which contributes to a healthier environment,” Campuzano said. “This allows you to play with people you can call real friends, and it's been the most positive aspect for me.”
The Pilots kicked off their season with a 0-0 tie against the Colgate Raiders, where Campuzano made three saves, punching out Raiders shots. He kept a clean sheet against the George Washington Colonials on Friday and finished the game with four saves to keep his team ahead.
And although the Pilots suffered their first loss of the season against the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, falling 1-0, an impressive save from Campuzano kept the Pilots in the game when, in the 56th minute, the opponent was awarded a penalty.
“Obviously, we didn't get the results we wanted, but that's how the game turns out to be sometimes,” Campuzano said. “The reaction of the group has been positive, which is encouraging. We all share the feeling of disappointment with the result at the same time as pride in our work, so it only helps us stay hungry and determined to keep working in the same line and succeed.”
For Campuzano, succeeding means winning the conference. But it also means improvement. While winning the WCC would be ideal for seniors on the team and a “realistic goal,” according to Campuzano, the ultimate goal is to go further in the NCAA tournament than they did last year.
“The biggest message that the coaching staff transmits to us is to leave the program better than we found it, a message that I take in a season-by-season basis,” Campuzano said.
Ana Clyde is a senior sports reporter and copy editor at The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.