As Alex Bono weighed his college choices, his father asked him a simple question.
He asked whether or not his son, a top recruit, wanted to go to a Top-25 school or an up-and-coming program looking to change its culture.
“It’s really appealing to me to go to a team that is on the rise and is really trying to progress, and have the opportunity to be on the team that really turns the program around,” Bono said.
Bono found that at Syracuse, he could play right away, and through eight games, he has led a previously struggling program to a 6-2 start while posting six shutouts. He was rated the No. 1 recruit in New York by TopDrawerSoccer.com and was listed as the sixth-best goalkeeper by ESPN Rise. The freshman goalie from Baldwinsville considered St. John’s, Northeastern, Georgetown and Villanova, but ultimately decided to stay close to home and try to improve a team that finished 3-12-1 a season ago.
Bono hopes his terrific play translates to the Big East. Syracuse faces off against Seton Hall on Saturday at SU Soccer Stadium.
Head coach Ian McIntyre has been impressed by Bono’s ability to lead the team and make clutch saves as a freshman.
“I think, for a young goalkeeper, he’s commanded his area very well,” McIntyre said. “He’s stopping a lot of aerial threats. Balls have been put in there and he’s got the confidence to come and claim them, and that presence for a young goalkeeper is very impressive.”
Bono’s destiny as a top-notch goalie wasn’t always set in stone. He didn’t start playing soccer until the age of 8 or 9. At 6 feet 3 inches and 195 pounds, Bono always had a passion for basketball and had a tough time deciding which sport to pursue.
He played basketball through his freshman year of high school, but he then realized that his future was in soccer and committed to the sport.
“He really liked basketball a lot, but as time went on, he really excelled at soccer,” his father, Mark Bono, said. “At some point in time, you have to give up one, and it was basketball.”
Bono’s decision to give up basketball and dedication to soccer paved the way for a spot on Empire United to play for U-16 coach Paul Valenti and U-18 coach Ben Cross.
Valenti said much of Bono’s success on Empire United, and now with Syracuse, can be attributed to the size of his hands.
“He’s got enormous hands,” Valenti said. “He loves to shake people’s hands or give people five. Especially other coaches, because I think he wants them to know how big his hands are as a goalie. We always bust his chops about that.”
Cross said that Bono is always trying to improve and is never content with settling for anything less than his best. Mark Bono said that Alex’s drive is what makes him such a terrific goalie and that he has helped his brother become a better goalie over the years.
“He hates to lose,” Mark Bono said. “He’s just that kind of kid who’s going to give 110 percent every time he steps on the field. He once told his younger brother, ‘When you step on the field, you have to play every game like it’s your last game,’ and that’s what he does.”
That vocal leadership and passion has translated to the college level, as Bono has already won Big East Goalkeeper of the Week and saved 27 shots en route to six wins.
Teammate Lars Muller noted Bono’s vocal leadership as a particular strength and said he has a strong voice on the team, despite being a freshman.
“I think, first of all, it’s his personality on the field,” Muller said. “He always knows what he’s going to do, his shouting is really good and the way he talks is unbelievable. I think he’s got the whole package.”
Syracuse defender Jordan Murrell said having Bono in net improves the play of the defense because of his constant communication and command of the team. His confidence permeates the entire SU backline.
Freshman Stefanos Stamoulacatos, who played with Bono on Empire United, said Bono’s presence and poise in goal is what differentiates him from other keepers.
“It’s those moments where we need it most where he makes that amazing save,” Stamoulacatos said. “There are so many things that I could name off. He’s just a great all-around keeper.”