When Tino Nunez scored the game-winning goal in the 60th minute of Real Salt Lake's 2-1 win over the New England Revolution Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium, it marked a coming of age for the 23-year-old rookie.
It was only Nunez's fifth appearance for RSL, and it was his first point in Major League Soccer. For the 5-foot-8 striker, it was a surreal experience.
"Ever since I started playing at university (UC Santa Barbara), I was looking forward to playing in MLS," Nunez said. "You dream about getting this kind of opportunity. To go out and work hard and accomplish your goals is a dream come true."
The fact that Nunez even had an opportunity to make a game-winning play was a long shot. First, starting forward Robbie Findley was injured in the 41st minute, creating the need for another forward to come on the pitch. Normally, that would be Fabian Espindola or Yura Movsisyan, but both are still out with injuries. Both are on the mend and expected back any match now. So with his playing chances dwindling, how nice was it for Nunez to capitalize?
"You always want to go out and impress," he said. "I feel if I just go out and work hard, put my best effort forth every chance I get, then good things are going to happen. I am happy I am getting more playing time, and hopefully what I do on the field will pay off with more opportunities."
His stats on the season coming in were negligible. He had four appearances with 62 minutes 33 of which came in Real's last game at home Wednesday night one shot, one foul and four fouls drawn. But if he continues to play like he did against the Revs, expect the numbers to rise.
"Very, very happy for Tino," said coach Jason Kreis. "I thought his performance was fantastic again. He is just a guy that gets in there and works really hard and takes a lot of pride in how he holds the ball up for the rest of the team. It was nice to see him get rewarded with a goal."
Rewarded is exactly how Nunez's goal should be described. Javier Morales prepared to fire a shot from nearly 30 yards. The ball took a deflection off a defender, and Nunez was in the right place at the right time as the ball rolled to his feet just inside the 18. He knew what to do with it from there as he coolly slotted it past the 'keeper."As a striker you are always taught to follow a shot," he said. "When I turned to go at the goal, the ball was right there and I hit it. It was a fantastic feeling getting my first goal and having it turn out like that."