The FIU Panthers have been a force in Conference USA soccer.
Senior standout Luis Bentacur, a player teams need to game plan for already, will have added attention this coming season for his international play.
Bentacur or “Nandi” as he is affectionately called by his friends, teammates, and family, made history by playing for Puerto Rico’s national team when they hosted a friendly match against the US men’s national team. The nod to start the game was an honor in itself for Nandi but when he notched Puerto Rico’s lone goal in the game he felt as if he was truly living his dream.
Playing alongside current Panthers teammate Darren Rios and former teammate Patrick Lopez, Nandi beat USMNT goalkeeper Brad Guzan with a rifle of a shot outside of the 18-yard box in the 42nd minute.
Nandi’s goal will be forever etched in his memory as a moment where he seized the opportunity on the largest stage possible, but as gratifying as a win would have been for Nandi, Puerto Rico fell to the strong Americans 3-1. Despite the loss, Nandi and his teammates take away an experience that they can grow from, and immediately direct it to the goal of crowning themselves back-to-back champs in Conference USA.
Last season, with a record of 12-7-1, the Panthers finished with their best record in more than 11 years and claimed the C-USA title, earning them their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2004. This season Nandi and his teammates hope to lift the bar even higher and climb up the national rankings where they ended the 2015 season at No. 16 in the NSCAA poll.
The Panthers finished last season as the conference’s top scoring offense and were ranked 14th in the nation in goals. FIU is No. 24 in the NSCAA preseason rankings and will begin their journey for another conference title at home with a match against Furman at 5 p.m. on Aug. 26.
For Nandi, he is hoping his final season at FIU is one that propels him to the next level as a professional soccer player.
Above: Video produced by Derrick Riviere. Video courtesy Fox Sports 1, Conference USA Digital Network