Bono shuts out Connecticut, outduels star goalie Blake
When the clock hit quadruple zeros and the referee blew the ball dead, Syracuse goalkeeper Alex Bono dropped to his knees, raised his arms and looked to the sky. Brandon Albert ran in for a celebratory hug.
On Tuesday night at the SU Soccer Stadium, Syracuse (4-2-0) defeated No. 12 Connecticut (2-2-1) 1-0 in a tightly contested match. But it was more than just a game between two fierce rivals. It was a display of two of the nation’s finest goalkeepers, as well.
In August, TopDrawerSoccer.com ranked Connecticut goalkeeper Andre Blake as the No. 1 goalkeeper in the country and No. 2 player overall. Syracuse’s Bono was ranked 75th overall, and the sixth-best goalkeeper.
But on Tuesday night, Bono’s performance reigned supreme.
“I’m speechless,” Bono said. “He’s a guy who I think very highly of. I respect him as a goalkeeper, and he’s one of the top pro prospects coming out of this year’s draft. So for me to be able to one-up him is a goal, but it also shows that, you know, he’s number one, but number one goes down, too.”
Bono was clearly the better man between the pipes on Tuesday night, recording his third shutout of the season. The Huskies continuously tested Bono’s right side throughout the match, but the Baldwinsville product made diving saves to his left time and time again.
“UConn have an outstanding goalkeeper, arguably the best,” SU head coach Ian McIntyre said. “ Athletes know other athletes, especially in your position. We’ve seen them play on a number of occasions, and they’ve got a good goalkeeper. But so do we. And thankfully our guy pulled off some important saves when he needed to tonight.”
Both keepers were noticeably vocal in the game’s opening stages. Blake clapped his hands and urged his offense to pick up the pace. Bono screamed for SU attack Chris Nanco to “put one in.”
Blake was the first of the two keepers to get tested. SU defender Jordan Murrell sent a free kick into the box from the right side. But like a wide receiver going up for a pass in the middle of the field, Blake smoothly glided his 6-foot-4 frame in to catch the attempt.
Connecticut attackers Ethan Decker, Adria Beso and Mamadou Doudou Diouf continued to work Bono’s right side, but Bono either intercepted their crossing attempts or an SU defender cleared it away.
UConn’s first real scoring chance came with seven minutes remaining in the first half. Diouf had the ball once again to Bono’s right and raced down the field with Cyle Larin sprinting down the middle. SU defender Chris Makowski fell and Larin was given a semi-contested shot on goal. Bono extended his arms and dove left, catching the shot from about 15 yards out.
Bono made three saves in the first half and, because of an Alex Halis goal in the 23rd minute, SU held a 1-0 halftime lead.
At halftime, Bono went through his normal routine of catching drills with SU assistant coach Mike Miller. After a double slap of the crossbar, a brief chat with the official and a first bump with Makowski, he was ready for the second half.
The second half was more of the same from Bono, along with a stellar string of sequences from the SU defense.
Murrell credited the back four in particular for a dominant performance in preserving the shutout.
“A clean sheet runs throughout the whole team,” he said.
Oyvind Alseth made an exceptional slide tackle on Decker and cleared away several other balls. Albert, who stepped in with Skylar Thomas injured, cleared a few out, as did Makowski and Murrell.
It was apparent that Bono was having fun. On two occasions, he baited UConn attackers, trying to get them to take the ball away from him. In the 66th minute of the second half, he intentionally dropped the ball near Larin, but picked it up quickly when Larin came to get it.
In all, Bono made five saves on the night, including the 100th of his career. Blake didn’t record any.
“We like to call this a signature win,” Bono said. “That’s a very good team we just played against. Every single guy on their team is a quality player.”
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