Buono back to help lead experienced Warriors

Sherando's Tommy Buono, left, is back to help lead an experienced Warriors squad on the soccer pitch this season. Brad Fauber/Daily

STEPHENS CITY – Tommy Buono made a somewhat late arrival to the sport of soccer.

It wasn’t until his freshman year at Sherando High School that Buono began taking the sport seriously. That same year, he joined U.S. Youth Soccer’s Olympic Development Program (ODP), a move that completely shifted Buono’s level of play.

Buono, now a senior, has since gone on to thrive on the pitch for Sherando each spring while spending his offseason months playing year-round with a travel team from Annandale, but his experience with ODP offered Buono more than just a chance to sharpen his skills.

Last spring, Buono was afforded the rare chance to play soccer overseas with the Olympic Development Program’s Region I team for boys born in 1997, as the team served as America’s lone representative in the 16-team Future Champions Gauteng Cup in Johannesburg, South Africa.

“The talent over there, I don’t know if people realize that in Africa there is a lot of talent, and players from England, China, Brazil, Mexico, they were all there,” Buono said following Sherando’s practice on Thursday. “The facilities there were great. We got to tour a lot. It was probably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”

Buono, who was selected as one of 18 members of ODP Region I (which spans 13 states from the southern, mid-Atlantic and New England regions of the country), competed in a total of five matches against teams from England, India, the Netherlands and South Africa last March.

The tournament, which began with pool play before breaking off into championship and consolation rounds, also included teams from Brazil, Mexico, China, Nigeria, Canada, Qatar, Congo and Zambia.

Though ODP Region I failed to win a match during the 10-day trip (Buono said the U.S. team was at a disadvantage because they were only able to practice together once a month), the experience opened Buono’s eyes to a whole new caliber of soccer.

“Definitely playing faster,” Buono said of his biggest takeaway from the experience. “Make sure you’re always looking at where you’re at on the field and just knowing your teammates more.”

Buono, who missed Sherando’s first three games of the season last year due to the trip, said the benefits he gleaned from playing with ODP Region I were instantly noticeable when he returned for Sherando’s fourth game.

“I remember coming back, we played James Wood and I got to score two goals right off the bat from coming back. I’m guessing that helped a little bit,” Buono said with a laugh.

Buono ended his junior season with nine goals and five assists last year, a year after he earned all-state honorable mention as a sophomore when he led the Warriors with 13 goals and six assists.

“I think every year I’ve been growing as a player since freshman year,” Buono said. “I definitely want to match and achieve more than I did last year, so hopefully I can do that. I think we can with the team that we have.”

Buono and the Warriors — who saw their season come to an end in the Conference 21 semifinals last season — have high hopes for this spring due to the amount of returning talent Sherando has on the pitch.

Sherando, which graduated seven seniors from last year’s 11-5 squad, has 11 seniors this spring. And in addition to that experience, head coach Patrick Anderson’s squad features plenty of potential offensive firepower, as the Warriors return 10 players who scored at least two goals in 2014, including senior forward Andrew Wade (team-high 11 goals, nine assists last season).

Senior goalkeeper Kevin Riley also returns as the last line of the Warriors’ defense after tallying 106 saves and five shutouts last season.

“Most of the starting players I know are going to be seniors, so I think we’ll be really strong. I just think we have to come in mentally strong and be ready,” Buono said.

“I know we need to get a lot of goals in the back of the net. And defensively I think we’re pretty good, so as long we put it in the net we’ll be fine.”

Buono plans to enjoy yet another overseas soccer experience following his high school graduation later this year, as he will attend the American College of Marbella in Spain to further his education. While there, Buono said, he will compete with Marbella United FC, the college’s affiliated soccer academy.

Buono, who had previously made a verbal commitment to Christopher Newport University, said he was approached by a Marbella United coach during a showcase event in Florida over Christmas break. Buono said the academy provides players with luxuries like a personal chef and fitness trainer, but he also expects a strict environment. Players are given 21 points at the start of each week, he said, and points are deducted during room checks each morning for things such as leaving dishes in the sink and leaving the air conditioning on.

“If you end up with zero points by the end of the week, you don’t play,” said Buono, who plans to study toward becoming a soccer coach. “So it’s going to be hard. It’s going to immensely challenging being away from home that long. I think I’m going to grow as a man coming back.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com