Diaz bringing Spanish flair to Madison

first_imgOn a team chock-full of midwestern guys, Victor Diaz easily stands out despite his diminutive frame. The 5-foot-8, 145-pound Diaz hails from Madrid, Spain — exactly 4,226 miles away from his new home of Madison. But that is simply one part of his story, one of constant adaptation mixed with a love of soccer.As a youngster, Diaz showed his skill early on, competing with the some of the top soccer talent in Spain. He earned a spot on the U-10 squad of famed Spanish Primera Division powerhouse Real Madrid in 1994, beginning a run with the club’s junior teams that included a first-place finish at the Nike European Championships at the U-14 level and lasted until Diaz came to Wisconsin prior to last season.“People get like ‘Oh my God. You played for Real Madrid like six years.’ It’s a really cool experience,” Diaz said.However, Diaz wanted more than just soccer. Despite receiving offers to play professionally in the Second “B” Division of the Spanish league, he made the decision last year to leave his homeland and make the trip across the Atlantic, with the desire for a top-notch education at the top of his list of reasons.“I didn’t want to just focus on soccer because if I get an injury or whatever, what would happen if I don’t have a degree?” Diaz said. “How am I going to get a job? What kind of job? So I got this opportunity and I didn’t think about anything else. Just go [to Wisconsin], play soccer, have fun, study, get to know a different culture and to learn English.”Diaz sent his information to several universities across the United States, and chose Wisconsin over North Carolina and West Virginia. UW head coach Jeff Rohrman received an email from the Madrid native, beginning what Rohrman called a “unique recruiting process.”“We certainly had to research things a little bit and for sure there were some questions on the academic side and admissions that had to be answered,” Rohrman said. “We had a very good sense and feeling that from the soccer side of things, it was going to be a good fit. Yet, we still had to do some research and follow up on that as well.” With a desire to major in business and a liking for the UW coaching staff and the city of Madison, Diaz packed his bags for Wisconsin with limited knowledge of the English language. However, Diaz struggled early on adapting to his new home.“I couldn’t speak, so I couldn’t be involved,” Diaz said. “I could go out with [my teammates], but it’s different because the culture is different, so I had to get used to living in a different country, a different culture.”Facing an enormous cultural and language barrier, Diaz and the Wisconsin coaching staff made the logical decision this past year to take a redshirt, giving him time to adjust to living in a new country. Diaz, who Rohrman calls “driven” in the classroom, also took the time to focus on his academic career while still learning English.“It was difficult for me to play sometimes, because I didn’t know what they were saying when I was playing with my teammates,” Diaz said. “I knew English, but I didn’t know like soccer slang. So it was difficult and Coach [Rohrman] was like, ‘Take English lessons, focus on your English and your studies and then you will play next year. You will get used to America and you will be involved with your teammates.’”Now, fast-forward eight months. After sitting and watching during the fall, Diaz made his presence felt during the recent spring exhibition season. Armed with a stronger grasp of the language, Diaz led Wisconsin’s offensive attack. During the Badgers’ spring break trip to Florida, the Spaniard slotted home a strike against the U.S. U-17 national team and then proceeded to bury the Golden Knights of Central Florida in Wisconsin’s next contest with four more goals. Diaz will be looking to continue that scoring output next season for a Badger team that lost its top two scorers (Nick Van Sicklen and Jed Hohlbein).“In terms of finishing, Victor’s as good a finisher as we have right now on the team,” Rohrman said. “He continues to take his chances very well and he also creates some great chances off the dribble. He’s definitely going to be a guy this fall that we’re going to need and count on to create some things in the attacking half.”Diaz’s combination of explosiveness and strength despite his small stature offers Rohrman and the rest of the coaching staff with several options in formulating a lineup. The redshirt freshman has played several different spots in front of the Badger attack this spring, and Rohrman says Diaz could play either as a forward or an attacking midfielder in support next fall.“Certainly we need to get Victor in around the goal because he can do so much in the box,” Rohrman said. “I think we just need to find the right combination of people that can play with him and around him and we also need to put him in positions where he can do some things in the attack.”Wisconsin will get its first look at what Rohrman hopes will be a fruitful collegiate career in Madison for his pupil. Rohrman says how far soccer can take Diaz (who for his part says he hasn’t even though about a professional career in the future) is yet to be determined. “I think Victor’s very capable of playing at the next level,” Rohrman said. “He’s a very competitive young man. He certainly holds the bar high for himself as well. So I think there’s a large upside to what Victor can do and it’s just going to be a matter of finding those things (to improve upon) and developing his game over the next four years.”last_img

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