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SSFC Spotlight: Noel Buck emerging as impact player

The 18-year-old midfielder is turning heads in Major League Soccer.

MLS: Chicago Fire at New England Revolution Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

While the United States Under-20 Men’s National Team recently qualified for the quarterfinal round at the 2023 U-20 World Cup, one of the players absent from the roster is making noise in Major League Soccer. Over the weekend, Noel Buck registered his second goal of the season, a long-range screamer that helped secure a 3-3 draw with Chicago Fire FC. The 18-year-old midfielder has emerged as one of the top American prospects, the recipient of reported European transfer interest that should evince in the coming window.

Born in Arlington, Massachusetts, Buck played with Arlington and New England Futbol Club before joining the New England Revolution academy in 2017, embracing the challenges of balancing the sport with his academic responsibilities. With the club setting out a clear and defined development path, he was promoted to the reserves in 2021, making 28 appearances in USL League One and contributing five goals and one assist, becoming the “youngest goal scorer in club history” and “first Academy player to score at the professional level.” His exploits earned Academy Player of the Year, cited for his “bright future” based on “dedication, work ethic, and ability on the field.”

In January of 2022, New England signed the “talented two-way central midfielder with a high ceiling” to a Homegrown contract through the 2025 season with a one-year option. “It’s always been my dream to play professional soccer, and especially with my hometown club, who I’ve been with all my life,” a then-16-year-old Buck shared with “It’s just a commitment, and I’ve committed myself to this organization and I’ve always loved playing, I always loved being here... I know I have school I have to do when I go home and all that kind of stuff, but everyone here has an obligation to commit to outside of soccer, so it’s not too much different to everyone else.”

Last season, Buck split time between the reserve and first-team levels, dealing with minor injury issues. He made 16 appearances in MLS Next Pro and scored a goal. The midfielder began playing with the senior squad in August, featuring in seven matches, a run that included three consecutive starts and a “stellar” finish in a 3-0 win over New York City FC, “turning at the top of the box before unleashing a left-footed shot into the bottom corner.”

During the offseason, a planned training session with Tottenham “didn’t work out.” However, living up to his billing as one of the top prospects in MLS, Buck has been a revelation, appearing in all 15 league-and-cup matches for the Revolution while earning Team of the Matchday honors four times. He claimed the starting role at central midfielder and notched a fortuitous game-winning goal in a 2-1 win against D.C. United, earning praise from head coach Bruce Arena for his “physical growth, tactical understanding, first touch, and excellent work rate.” With reports of interest from English clubs, any future transfer will be aided by his United Kingdom passport.

His offseason improvements have yielded success on the field. “I’m obviously better than I was last year,” Buck shared with American Soccer Now. “I’ve put in a ton of work over these last few months. At the end of the day, you’re still playing soccer, whether it be more minutes or less minutes. It’s always nice to have more minutes. But you have to still come in every day and work really hard to make sure I even keep my spot. So, it’s just a grind.”

At the international level, Buck is eligible for England and Wales through his father’s heritage and received a call-up with the United States in July of 2022 with the U-19 team. He was under consideration for the 2023 U-20 World Cup as head coach Mikey Varas watched him “really closely” and noticed “great next steps with New England.” Left off the roster for the competition, the 18-year-old is “happy where [he] is” earning minutes in MLS, yet “open to anything” in the future.

An intelligent central midfielder who can also line up on the wing, Buck is one of MLS’ most prolific tacklers and shot-blockers, consistently winning back possession for his side while displaying “an ability to create for himself and others.” He excels at taking down opposing dribblers and advancing possession up the field, considering the “best part” of his “fairly mature game” to be “dribbling and good turning.” In a thorough player analysis, CamMeyer observes his “long-range passing and vision, switching the point of attack, and through balls to break lines,” noting “a lot of his passes are leading to quality chances.”

“He is comfortable on both feet and has excellent technical skills,” wrote Joshua Nkan for Football Talent Scout. “He can dribble past defenders, create chances for himself and his teammates, and finish with accuracy and power. He is also a hard-working player who presses high up the pitch and tracks back to help defensively... Buck’s main strengths are his vision, creativity, and composure. He has a keen sense of space and timing, and can exploit gaps in the opposition’s defense with his intelligent runs and passes. He can also improvise and adapt to different situations on the pitch. He is not afraid to take risks and try new things. He is calm and confident on the ball, and does not get rattled by pressure or physicality. For a young man, he has a daring confidence to his game, always looking to open lines in offensive areas with penetrating passes.”

Buck is at the beginning of his professional career, the start of a future that seems bright. As an early standout, his rise could include a fast-track to the senior national team, albeit at one of the most crowded areas of the depth chart. While not a member of the U-20 World Cup roster, the midfielder appears to be on a distinctly upward trajectory, possibly on the move to Europe this summer.