USMNT Profile: Alex Bono’s rise to his first US call-up

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With January camp under way in Carson, California, there are a number of new faces to the young group. Jurgen Klinsmann has called in 28 players to the month-long training camp leading up to a January 28 friendly with Chile.

There’s a clear goal with this camp. As Klinsmann has named just seven players who were present in Brazil at the World Cup this summer, there are 14 uncapped members of the senior squad, including 12 of which who are of Olympic age. It’s as green as can be, and with the Gold Cup this summer and the next World Cup what seems like light years away, the U.S. coaching staff is hoping for somewhat of a fresh start.

One of those players is a complete unknown, at least to the general USMNT fan, simply because he has hardly featured in the U.S. picture up to this point, at any level. But to goalkeeper Alex Bono, who received quite the surprise nearly two weeks ago, that doesn’t mean much now.

“Obviously you would like to be at those youth national team camps,” Bono said. “But the fact that I haven’t doesn’t bother me now and I’ve gotten the call here. Things happen. Rosters are made, teams are picked, and players don’t make cuts, and that’s the way things go. But I’m honored to have gotten this call.”

Bono is a 20-year-old from Baldwinsville, NY, part of the city of Syracuse. That led him to Syracuse University to play his college ball, which in itself is quite the inauspicious start for a national team player. Syracuse, the year before Bono’s arrival, won three games. All year. The year before that, they won just two. It was a rocky start for new head coach Ian McIntyre, a Basildon, England native.

The project was daunting, but under the guidance of McIntyre, Bono and his teammates turned things around – and fast. In Bono’s freshman year, Syracuse went 14-6-1 and made both the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament and the third round of the NCAA Tournament. Then, after a “down” sophomore year of 10 wins, they exploded this season.

“As players at that point my freshman year, all the guys on the team said wow it can’t get much better than this,” Bono said. “But it did.”

It sure did. Buckle up. The team this year went 16-4-1, earning the school’s first #1 national ranking ever, and made noise in the NCAA tournament. The team started off the season on an unprecedented run, winning 11 of its first 12 games. Bono and his defense conceded a pint-sized three goals over that span. Ultimately, Bono worked to finish the year with an ACC-leading 0.55 goals against average, and gobbled up 12 shutouts, also an ACC best.

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Bono (left) and Syracuse head coach Ian McIntyre with the MAC Hermann Award nomination (Photo credit: Syracuse University)

He was selected by Toronto FC in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft, sixth overall. He became the first Syracuse player ever selected in the first round of the draft (Teammate Skylar Thomas also went in the first round this year, 11th to Toronto as well).

So to say it’s been a rise to the top for Bono is an understatement. A meteoric one would be more appropriate. Especially when you consider where he came from. Not only did he attend then-minnows Syracuse, but he started even before that at a club in Upstate New York called Empire United.

Tommy Tanner and Peter Ramin, both working for Empire, are friends of Bono’s family and convinced him to join Empire when he was 13 years old. Just like any other kid looking for special training, Alex tried out. He made the team and clearly stood out, but there was a glitch, one that gave him a little extra push.

“We had a ‘keeper at the age group one year ahead of him that was also a standout ‘keeper,” Ramin said. That goalkeeper was Andrew Coughlin, who also played at Syracuse for a year before transferring to nearby Canisius. “That team was the older team – normally we would have pushed Alex up to play on that team, that was our best team in the club that won the New York state championship a number of times. But Alex was humble enough and courteous enough to stay down and play at his true age group, and I really think that helped him a lot because that team wasn’t that good.”

So Alex passed up a chance at state championship glory, and instead got pummeled in goal. This, both Ramin and Tanner say, was a key moment in his development. Alex was stuck behind Coughlin in high school for a while as well, but that ended up working out in the long run as well. “We didn’t have to be too creative [to find Alex],” said McIntyre. “He goes to school 15 minutes down the road, so it would have been a real mess-up had we not identified a player of his talents.”

All this led him to now. Having left Syracuse after his junior season for the MLS draft, he got the call that had eluded him for so long. A call to the national team setup. And it came directly from Jurgen Klinsmann.

“It was definitely a surprise,” Bono said of his call from Klinsmann. Bono was in the on his way back from the presentation of the MAC Hermann award, the college soccer version of the Heisman. Bono was in the airport, and not having been in the youth national picture his entire development, the call wasn’t only a surprise, it came out of nowhere. No warning, no hints, not even an inkling that something might be coming. “I got the call Friday morning [January 9] with no expectation, I didn’t even think a call like that was coming, and when it did I was just so overwhelmed and honored to be attending.”

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Bono and SU goalkeeping coach Jukka Masalin, who also worked with Alex at Empire United (Photo Credit: Syracuse University)

Alex was too professional to mention this, but one of his coaches ratted him out. “Alex did not believe it was Jurgen Klinsmann,” Tanner said, having heard from his family about the call. “He thought it was one of his buddies joking around with him.”

But, after being overlooked and finally forcing his way through the door, giving the coaches few other options, he’s on the scene and he’s ready to work. Hard.

“He’s just a really hard-working kid who’s worked very hard to get where he is,” Tanner said. “He deserves the accolades he’s getting right now. I told his dad for four years he needed to come join the club, and he finally did, and Alex has gone on from there.”

We would, however, be completely remiss to leave out two very important people from Alex’s story, his parents. Both coaches mentioned how wonderful the Bono family was in terms of his upbringing and his development, and it shows. In this day where mothers and fathers control every aspect of their prodigy children’s athletic upbringing, and are often obnoxious in the process, Alex’s parents let the coaches and Alex make the decisions. Tanner and Ramin both made sure to point out that Alex’s parents were completely on board with keeping their kid down a level through the academy, and Alex himself was quick to go a step further.

“I should start with my parents,” Alex said when asked about his biggest influences on his career. “Not necessarily my soccer development, but my development as a person.”

But now that he’s on the big stage, it wouldn’t have been a complete interview without asking one particular question of the 20-year-old. Of any player at the national team camp, who would you most like to stop a shot against? It took him a moment, but he settled on one name.

“Jermaine Jones,” Alex said assuredly. With his former club Empire signing on as a New England Revolution affiliate recently, Alex got the chance to train with the senior team a few months ago. “He’s had some good goals for the national team, he’s got a powerful strike, and when I went to train with New England over the summer, I left the week before they signed him, so I didn’t get the chance to face him.”

Now they’re teammates with the U.S. national team. Meteoric rise, indeed.

He may or may not play in the immediate future, but with the Gold Cup, the Olympics, and plenty of time to develop before the next World Cup, Alex Bono is a name for U.S. fans to remember.

Jovic could see himself in Premier League, Serie A

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Maybe Luka Jovic’s presumed move to Real Madrid won’t happen this summer.

Or at all.

[ MORE: Real, Chelsea debate Hazard price ]

The Eintracht Frankfurt striker has been tipped for a move away from the Bundesliga after another strong campaign, and taking the center forward reins from Karim Benzema at Real Madrid.

Several outlets reported the deal as done, but Jovic isn’t speaking that way (or at least the Serbian is throwing us off the scent.

From Goal.com:

“In terms of the physique, the Bundesliga is very demanding, but after the games against Chelsea or Inter Milan, I personally had the feeling that I could feel even better [playing] in the Premier League or Serie A. … The way the teams play there suits me better.”

Jovic scored 27 times in 48 appearances for Frankfurt, adding seven assists at the tender age of 21. Ten of those came in the Europa League, and we’re not talking about flooding the nets of minnows; Jovic scored against Chelsea (twice), Marseille (three), Lazio (two), and Inter Milan (once).

Report: Chelsea, Real $38M apart on Hazard

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How much for Hazard?

Real Madrid are willing to pay $127 million, no small fee, to bring Eden Hazard from Chelsea, but that’s well off the Blues’ evaluation according to Sky Sports.

Chelsea sees Hazard’s price as $165 million. Belgian writer Kristof Terreur told Sky that Hazard wants his future sorted by June 4.

[ MORE: Bayern wins double ]

The Blues’ superstar is entering the final year of his contract, and could begin negotiating with other clubs in January and leave on a free transfer.

Hazard turns 29 in January. He recorded 19 goals and 16 assists in 51 matches this season, his best output in a Blues uniform.

The report says Chelsea feels no pressure to sell Hazard, but it would be a surprise if it dug in its heels too deeply considering the state of the Belgian’s contract.

Even for Chelsea, letting over $100 million walk out the door is wild, and for all Hazard’s won with Chelsea there’s also been consternation under several managers and a more than occasional habit of disappointing on the table.

MLS roundup: Timbers end road trip with emphatic win in Philly

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in MLS…

[ MORE: USA topped by Ukraine in U-20 World Cup opener ]

Philadelphia Union 1-3 Portland Timbers [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

Just when everyone had begun to take the Union seriously — to give them the respect befitting a first-place team — Jim Curtin’s side fell flat on its face and fell out of the Eastern Conference’s top spot. Saturday’s defeat to the suddenly streaking — and homeward bound — Timbers snapped Philadelphia’s six-game unbeaten run (four wins).

24-year-old attacker Brian Fernandez, signed as a Designated Player earlier this month, made his first MLS start and marked the occasion with two first-half goals (31st and 36th minutes). Diego Valeri added the third (87th) after Kacper Przybylko pulled the Union back to 2-1 in the 47th.

Now, with 14 points from their 12-game road trip to start the season, Portland heads home for 17 of their final 22 games to be played inside a newly renovated — and expanded — Providence Park. The gap between themselves and a Western Conference playoff place is just four points.

New England Revolution 1-1 D.C. United [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

With the Union slipping up and dropping all three points, D.C. United made the most of their opportunity to return to the top of the East on the back of Wayne Rooney‘s 90th-minute penalty kick to snatch a 1-1 draw with (what will soon be) Bruce Arena’s Revolution.

Juan Agudelo put the home side ahead with a header in the 61st minute, and the lead held firm for nearly the final half-hour. Alas, video review reviewed a handball late in the game, which presented Rooney the chance to play the part of hero. He duly obliged and hammered his spot kick past backup goalkeeper Brad Knighton, who replaced Matt Turner following his 56th minute red card for cleaning out Rooney.

Arena is expected to take charge of Revs training this week and make his debut as head coach next Sunday, when his new side visits… his old side, the LA Galaxy.

Colorado Rapids 3-2 Columbus Crew SC [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

Don’t look now, but the Rapids have won two straight games under interim head coach Conor Casey and appear set on clawing their way out of the league’s basement.

Sure, they blew a pair of leads at home, but they also hit back with another goal of their own every time Crew SC drew level, culminating in a stunning winner from Nicolas Mezquida.

The gap between Colorado and 23th place is now just three points, as expansion side FC Cincinnati come closer and closer on the horizon.

Elsewhere in MLS

Chicago Fire 1-1 New York City FC [ HIGHLIGHTS ]
Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 FC Dallas [ HIGHLIGHTS ]
FC Cincinnati 0-2 New York Red Bulls [ HIGHLIGHTS ]
Minnesota United 1-0 Houston Dynamo [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

Sunday’s MLS schedule

Sporting Kansas City v. Seattle Sounders — 6 p.m. ET
Toronto FC v. San Jose Earthquakes — 7:30 p.m. ET

Will winning the double be enough to keep Kovac at Bayern?

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BERLIN (AP) Niko Kovac is the first to win a domestic double in Germany as a player and coach, yet it may not be enough to keep his job as Bayern Munich coach.

[ MORE: Valencia end Barcelona’s four-year hold on Copa del Rey ]

Kovac, whose side defeated Leipzig 3-0 in the German Cup final on Saturday, a week after clinching the Bundesliga title, is yet to be given assurances in public from the club that he will remain in charge, despite bringing a successful end to what had been a testing season.

The pressure and uncertainty appeared to cast a shadow on what was Kovac’s second successive German Cup win — he was Eintracht Frankfurt coach when the side defeated Bayern in the final last year.

“Last year I was leaving the team. This year everything is a little less emotional, no tears, but still, I’m happy,” Kovac said.

“Sometimes I would really wish that things went a little differently. It’s difficult to turn the wheel back. We should all work on it, we’re all human. We should make sure that we get along with each other.”

[ U-20 WORLD CUP: Ezequiel Barco’s golazo paces Argentina to big win ]

Kovac, who won the double as a player in 2003, acknowledged the cup win on Saturday was “very important” as “it shows that we have worked well.”

Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was again coy when pressed on the coach’s future.

“At the end of the day, we have to get titles. Of course the coach plays a central role,” Rummenigge said. “It was never an issue for us with the term that he has until 2021, that he would simply not be there anymore as coach beforehand.”