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.

USMNT prospect Ledezma earns praise from van Nistelrooy

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Even for talents of the highest levels with top soccer education, sometimes a kid’s gotta learn how to eat.

Richard “Richie” Ledezma, 18, is in the midst of his first year at Eredivisie side PSV Eindhoven, a spot which beckoned after a five-match, one-goal season in the USL with Real Monarchs of the USL.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Ledezma starred for U.S. U-20 team at the World Cup after his first half-season with PSV, which saw him play with the U-19s while trying to lose some weight.

From Goal.com:

“PSV help me with my nutrition, with my food and how I eat. It’s the quantity of food you eat, I guess,” he added. “Because I came a little chubby, when I got here, I guess. They all called me ‘fatty’ and stuff, so I was like, cool, you know? So no more McDonald’s.”

Goal’s James Westwood had a wide-ranging interview with Ledezma and also spoke with soccer royalty: longtime Real Madrid and Manchester United scorer Ruud van Nistelrooy was Ledezma’s coach with the U-19s.

“He’s making a difference in midfield with very quick-thinking passes, movement, can score a goal, play people in, he’s creating chances for the whole team.”

That’s not just good praise from a legend, but a solid sign for fans of the United States men’s national team. A proper No. 10 or playmaking midfielder could allow Gregg Berhalter or another future USMNT coach to use Christian Pulisic on the wings.

Ledezma has some work to do before he breaks into the first team of the Dutch runners-up, who have signed former Stoke City man Ibrahim Afellay and has Gaston Pereiro in the fold as well.

Newcastle reportedly in for $28M mercurial Nice attacker

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L’Equipe says that Newcastle United have returned to Nice in the hopes of landing Allan Saint-Maximin.

The Ligue 1 outfit wants $28 million for the playmaker, who could team up with Miguel Almiron and (maybe) Joelinton to give the Magpies a much-improved attack.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Saint-Maximin, 22, has 10 goals and 10 assists across his last two seasons with Nice, and played everywhere in attack for Patrick Vieira: both wings, center forward, second striker, attacking mid… even some left and right midfield.

The player, however, has been a headache for Vieira at times, with the manager saying Saint-Maximin believes that he has enough talent to reach the highest level without the required amount of work.

That said, the youngster’s skill set is electric. He’s a March birth date, too, so a relatively young 22. That $28 million would be another transfer record broken for Newcastle, assuming it happens ahead of the Joelinton move.

Or… as Newcastle fan knows, neither could go through.

Clark County “declines to prosecute” Ronaldo for rape

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Cristiano Ronaldo will not face sexual assault charges for a June 2009 incident in the United States, attorneys say.

An American woman filed a civil lawsuit against the Juventus superstar last year, claiming that Ronaldo forced himself upon her while she was in a prone position in his hotel room.

[ MORE: Bayern keen on Zaha ]

Ronaldo had expressed belief that he would be cleared of the claims, and claimed that graphic documents produced by German publication Der Spiegel were altered and fabricated.

Las Vegas police issued a warrant in a bid to get Ronaldo’s DNA, and the DA’s office says the woman’s refusal to name her attacker stopped them for collecting “vital evidence.” The woman reached a civil settlement with Ronaldo in 2010.

From News3LV.com:

“Based upon a review of the information presented at this time, the allegations of sexual assault against Cristiano Ronaldo cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” the D.A.’s office said. “Therefore, no charges will be forthcoming.”

Bayern Munich kicking the tires on big Zaha bid

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A sensational report is linking Wilfried Zaha not just with a move away from Crystal Palace, but a move clear of the Premier League altogether.

90min.com says that Bayern Munich has turned to Zaha, having been rebuffed in their pursuit of Manchester City’s Leroy Sane.

Palace wants $100 million for Zaha, but so far has only received a $50 million offer from Arsenal for his services. Reports Monday said Arsenal is upping its bid, and offering a loan of Reiss Nelson as a make-good. Palace has had good Fortune with loans from the big boys of the PL, in particular with Ruben Loftus-Cheek two seasons ago.

A lot of this makes sense for all parties, apart from Sane, and it will be interesting to see if the report brings a bigger bid from the Gunners.

Zaha is a sensational player, and has created chances year-after-year for the Eagles. He wants to taste the Champions League, but Palace is not willing to let him go for (much) less than its asking price given its sale of Aaron Wan-Bissaka to Manchester United.

Bayern will spend less on Zaha than it would on Gareth Bale or Sane, and get a determined player who is very much in his prime. Zaha would also get the chance to showcase himself with actual breathing room on the pitch, thanks to Serge Gnabry, Robert Lewandowski, and others.

And Palace, of course, will end up with between $80-100 million and the knowledge that it won’t need to mark Zaha on a Premier League pitch. More importantly, the money raised from Zaha and Wan-Bissaka will allow them to strengthen at nearly every position (above what they have now, not above AWB and Zaha).