Noel Buck: The MLS starlet at the center of a recruitment battle between the USMNT and England

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Noel Buck Revolution 2023
The young midfielder got off to a hot start with England, but that's only the beginning of the battle for his international allegiance

Noel Buck says it wasn't meant to be a subliminal shot, but social media never quite sees things that way. On the surface, he has a point: rocking up to a game in a throwback England jersey shouldn't send fans into a frenzy. But this is social media, and Buck is a player that currently finds himself at the centre of a recruitment battle. Consider the frenzy engaged.

Because of all that's going on, Buck's England jersey was more than just a fashion choice, and his decision to join up with England's Under-19s, understandably, sent U.S. men's national team fans into panic mode. This fight for his international allegiance is just beginning and, for the first time in what feels like forever, the USMNT is losing.

“I feel like [the USMNT hasn't] really given me the time of day to be completely honest,” Buck said recently when asked about his decision to wear that famous England shirt. “And when I get called to an England camp, you know, it’s an honor for me.

“Wearing this shirt isn’t a symbol of like, screw the U.S. because it’s not. They just haven’t given me the time of day and I want to have a good time and really learn something there.”

Buck, the highly-rated New England Revolution midfielder, got off to an ideal start with England's U19s over the weekend. He scored a long-range goal in his second appearance for the team, making a strong impression in this first camp. Buck was the sole non-England-based player in the squad but, if that game is anything to go by, he looks like he belongs.

Given Buck's recent decision and the comments he made about it, it's safe to say that the USMNT should feel worried about this battle, even in this early stage. Buck is a player with a lot of promise and, at the moment, it seems that England have the leg up after losing several similar duels with the USMNT in recent years.

  1. Where it all began
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    Where it all began

    Born in nearby Arlington, Massachusetts, Buck has basically been raised to play for the New England Revolution.

    He joined the club's Academy at age 12, working his way right up the ranks all the way to the first team. Playing as both a forward and a midfielder, Buck was eventually named the Revs' Academy Player of the Year in 2021 after becoming a key player in the club's second team.

    In 2022, he was given a professional contract, becoming the Revs' eighth homegrown signing. And it's been only upwards from there as Buck, at just 18, is already a mainstay for the club's first team.

    The 2022 season was an introduction, as he made seven appearances, but this season has been his true breakout. Buck has made 24 appearances, 18 of which were starts, while scoring two goals with one assist.

    His breakout season with the Revs earned attention from England, who took advantage of the USMNT's lack of initiative to bring Buck in.

  2. The big break with England

    Considering Buck's rise, it would have made sense for him to be a mainstay with the U.S. youth teams but, thus far, he hasn't quite earned the attention. He wasn't part of the U20 group in their run to the World Cup, and his lone U.S. call-up previously came in July 2022 for a U19 development camp.

    Buck is eligible for three countries - the U.S., England and Wales - thanks to his father, Steve. And that opened the door for England to swoop in and offer Buck the thing he seemingly wanted most: a chance.

    “I’m really excited,” Buck told the Revs' official website after getting called in. “It’s pretty cool, and obviously a big honor for me. My dad is very happy! Obviously, he’s where I get my eligibility from.

    “I’d been in talks a bit, but there was nothing official until recently. Obviously, I had to find out a little bit before because I must fly all the way over there. I’m looking forward to experiencing something new – it will be a situation that I’ve never been in before.

    “I have to show what I’ve got and hopefully, I can do that.”

    Buck certainly made an impression in his early appearances. After coming off the bench for a 25-minute cameo against Germany in a debut that nearly saw him score, Buck was given a start in England's second game of the window against Switzerland. He played next to Newcastle's Lewis Miley in a double pivot, and notably scored England's third of four goals in the 4-2 win over the Swiss.

    Because of that, Buck's stock with the England program certainly hasn't gone down, and that'll put more pressure on the USMNT to act if they are to remain involved in the teenage midfielder's future.

  3. The recruitment battle
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    The recruitment battle

    Since Gregg Berhalter's arrival, in particular, the U.S. hasn't lost many recruitment battles. Time after time, players have stressed the importance and the draw of the USMNT's culture. It's a group of like-minded, young, talented players whom, thus far, have welcomed anyone with the ability to help the team with open arms.

    Sergino Dest, Yunus Musah, Antonee Robinson, Folarin Balogun... the list goes on and on. By and large, the U.S. has been on the right side of every dual-national race, beating England to both Musah and Balogun in the recent past. Both of those players could have, and maybe would have, played for England. Instead, now they're on the other side with the USMNT setting their sights on the 2026 World Cup.

    Might Buck be on the other side representing England in 2026? Likely not. It's far too soon to project the midfielder's career, even if it is off to a strong start. Breaking into England's team is tough, with most of this England U19 group likely never getting close to ever putting on the Three Lions jersey at senior level.

    Still, it's worth a look, especially in Buck's case. There's no harm in exploring the England environment and, perhaps, developing a reputation and relationship with potential Premier League or Championship suitors. There's really no downside to Buck's decision to go to England camp, especially since he didn't forego a USMNT opportunity to attend.

    And, in Buck's own words, he's open to a USMNT call at some point. His future is far from decided.

    “I'm not currently cap-tied,” he said. “So, it’s still up in the air. I chatted with Gregg a little bit ago.

    “It was just that I'm part of the project, and can possibly play for the team in the future. That was basically the whole conversation.”

    Berhalter added: “He’s been great. He’s been really strong, I have spoken to him. There has been interest from England, which I think is great. Great achievement, when you have a country like England looking at you.

    “I’ve communicated with him, told him that we see him as a player that can compete to make the World Cup team in 2026, based on what he’s doing now. We see - if he continues to develop at that rate - I’m sure he can be competitive and compete to be on the roster.”

  4. Biggest strengths

    In his limited professional minutes, Buck has proven to be a prototypical modern center midfielder, one that can contribute from a variety of positions and in a variety of roles.

    Capable of playing as a No.6, a No.8, as a wide midfielder or even as a more attacking player, Buck is versatile with the technical skills to contribute all over the field. He's solid on the ball and he works hard, allowing him to influence the game both on the attacking and defensive ends.

    Physically, Buck has the tools including a large frame that he is still learning how to use. Buck's biggest attribute right now is his confidence, as he believes in himself just enough to try things many of his peers wouldn't.

    See the below goal for a perfect example of just that...

  5. Room for improvement

    It's still early, so there's plenty of time to grow, but Buck, like all young players, still needs to develop the finer points of his game.

    His decision-making in the final third could certainly get better, as could his awareness on the defensive end. Physically, he's still growing into his frame and learning how to use it against more experienced players who are already his size.

    All of these, of course, can be bettered with time, but he'll need to take those steps forward if he hopes to compete at the highest of levels.

  6. What comes next?

    As Buck says, his decision doesn't have to be made just yet. At just 18, the international game is still very, very new to him.

    Buck has already drawn interest from overseas. Tottenham were said to be interested earlier this year, and that was before the Three Lions call-up. Clubs all over England will surely be taking notice of a player who is thriving in MLS and with England's U19s.

    At club level, the Revs are facing a bit of a crisis following the resignation of Bruce Arena. His departure comes just weeks after the club lost its best player, Djordje Petrovic, who signed with Chelsea this summer.

    However, they are currently in second in the Eastern Conference and have a firm grasp on a playoff spot. Getting out of the East will be difficult, but not impossible for a team that still has plenty of talent.

    Buck, of course, is a part of that. The young midfielder will be key for the Revs going forward, as his development as a central midfielder could help keep the club right at the top of the East despite all that's gone on.

    As for his international future, that'll eventually sort itself out. England may be winning at the moment, but this is only just beginning.