FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – With a love of beans on toast and a cup of tea part of his pre-match ritual, Noel Buck was well-equipped for his first England camp.
Called up for the first time to the Three Lions’ U-19s squad earlier this month through family connections (with his dad Steve hailing from Cambridgeshire in the United Kingdom), the New England Revolution midfielder stood ready to showcase his talent. A USMNT youth international, his inclusion in Simon Rusk’s roster had come as a surprise to some, but ever keen to aid his personal development, the 18-year-old simply relished the challenge of a new experience, eager to soak up any crumb of knowledge that could enhance his game.
Massachusetts-born amongst a group of British starlets, Buck was bound to stand out, and just as his American accent and dialect caused a stir with his new teammates – “Peace out, bro” not quite hitting the mark; instead ensuing much hilarity – his on-field ability and goalscoring performance certainly caught the eye to earn the respect of his peers.
One week after he was snapped sporting a retro England jersey, he once again donned the colors of his father’s country and wrote his name onto the scoresheet, marking his first start with a goal in a 4-2 win over Switzerland – a superb long-range effort, and further evidence of the ‘dangerous’ offensive ability that had initially captured the attention of the English scouts.
Though he was a little shy to break out the ‘Buck’ celebration to honor the occasion, reflecting on his maiden camp across the pond, the teenage sensation believes the chance to step out of his comfort zone proved a valuable exercise.
“It was good, a great experience for me,” he said. “It was massive to have such a new experience.
“It’s always difficult integrating into a new group of guys, especially with me having grown up in the U.S. It was going to be hard no matter what – a new experience, new everything – but I thought I fit in pretty well by the end, especially football-wise.
“It was interesting. There were a lot of talented players, a lot of guys from big clubs; it was sharp and technical, and that’s how I’d imagined it to be.
“It was really difficult but I think it was a really good thing for me to go through – to really have that experience of being able to go somewhere and take care of myself. For the first couple of days, it was a bit rough. Jet lag didn’t help, I was overthinking everything … but the football turned out alright – I got a goal, which is pretty cool.
“I got the ball on the right side, 10 yards outside the box. It was a little combination play – I brought it down, passed forward inside. He flicked it on to someone, who flicked it on again because I’d continued my run inside. There were a couple of guys tracking me, so I took a few touches. I was on the other side, so I got my hips around it 5-10 yards outside the box and put it into the bottom right.
“It was such a relief, I didn’t even really celebrate – I did sort of but it was a friendly, and no-one knows who I am!
“How I approached it was: I was there to learn, show what I can do – if I show well, great; if I don’t, so be it. I was just there to learn something. I knew that doing my talking on the pitch was what I could do, and that’s what I did.”
Buck may be back on U.S. soil, but that doesn’t mean he has escaped the banter.
From singing the English National Anthem to shouting: ‘Three Lions’ at him, the Revolution team have been poking their own light-hearted fun at the youngster – much to the teenager’s amusement.
Anticipating that his England selection would prove a talking point on either side of the Atlantic, he was prepared for the tag of ‘new kid on the block’ as he settled into the Three Lions locker room, and was content to let his football do the talking in response.
“It was great,” he laughed. “When people make fun in that environment, it’s really a show of affection, a little bit of banter. When they started doing it, I was like: ‘Oh man!’
“[‘Peace out, bro’] was bad but I think it opened the doors for them to realize the American accent. I don’t mind them making fun of it – it’s all banter. I’ve had a little bit of banter here: ‘Three Lions!’ and singing ‘God Save The King’ every so often. I think it’s great.
“It can be difficult [to integrate into a new team at first] because you’re coming to take these guys’ spots realistically. It’s all going to be very new but at least on the pitch – although it’s with new people, new coaches – it’s the same game. It makes it a bit easier.
“What’s great about playing is that once you’re on the pitch, you forget everything else – you forget where you are, you forget what you’re doing. It’s more familiar rather than everything off the pitch.”
The son of a football-loving Englishman, it was no surprise Buck holds a deep passion for soccer, alongside brother Joe, who also plies his trade at the collegiate level with Georgetown University.
Having grown up watching the beautiful game with his dad, and enjoying other staples of British culture, Noel asserts the English connection runs strong in both his personal and professional life.
“My dad grew up in England and that whole culture, so he’s a big football fan,” he continued. “He watches random games because he loves it so much. He got my mom into it. She was never a big football player – she was actually a volleyball player.
“Ever since I can remember, it was a lot of football. When I was young, he had me wearing something football-related, had me watching something football-related … There were games I went to that I don’t even remember. I think I watched AC Milan play somebody in a back-to-back game ages ago. I don’t even remember it but my dad has pictures of me on his shoulders.
“I think my home life is a bit more British than American actually. It’s just how I grew up. I love beans on toast and they had it [at England camp], so I had it every breakfast all week, which was great. I’m a big tea drinker – I have tea before games, which is funny.
“My dad coached me, too, when I was very young, and he really got me into it. I’d like to think I have some English influence in my game. I think me and my brother play pretty similar. We love to be physical – really get your foot in, get the tackles in, that kind of stuff.”
From the outset, Buck was determined to use his England youth team selection as a learning experience, ready to test himself alongside and against some of the country’s brightest budding stars, continuing to perfect his strengths and practice potential new areas of improvement.
Asked of the most important lessons learned from the camp, the midfielder remains grounded with a mature outlook. In the knowledge he is still honing his craft at a young age, he has not closed the door to any future USMNT involvement, and is purely open to whatever opportunities allow him to better himself both on and off the pitch.
“One thing the [England] coaches said was that I’m dangerous as a midfielder,” he revealed. “I can score goals, and I think that’s a big strength of mine.
“That was good to hear but obviously there are a lot of things I can improve at, like being more reliable. Personally, I think I’m reliable but there are times when you can lose a bit of focus, get a bit tired, and that’s when it matters.
“That’s something I can improve on. If you’re not willing to learn, then you might as well call it. [And off the pitch], just be confident in yourself – do your thing and play well.”