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Bonomo Buoyant in Leading Red Bulls II Surge

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 11/02/17, 1:49PM EDT


Striker has made up for lost time since hitting ‘rock bottom’ during injury woes

Photo courtesy Ben Solomon / New York Red Bulls II

WHIPPPANY, N.J. – There’s an understandable brightness in the voice of New York Red Bulls II forward Stefano Bonomo right now, with his contributions to his side’s pursuit of a second consecutive USL Cup helping set the stage for Saturday’s Eastern Conference Final against Louisville City FC at Slugger Field.

“It’s incredible,” said Bonomo. “It’s obviously an honor to play in the playoffs – it’s even a bigger deal the further of a run you make, and the fact that it’s against Louisville, and it’s a rematch, and it’s at their home, I think it makes for an exciting upcoming match.”

After the setbacks the 24-year-old has gone through since helping the side claim victory in the 2016 USL Cup last October against the Swope Park Rangers, the enthusiasm and drive Bonomo has brought game in, game out to the Red Bulls II is just as understandable. After playing through pain to complete the 2016 season, two offseason surgeries to try and fix a sports hernia left the former Cal standout sidelined for nine months, wiping out his first half of 2017.

It was a challenging time for the third-year professional, who had produced stellar numbers in college for the Golden Bears before being selected by the Red Bulls in the second round of the 2015 MLS SuperDraft.

“I did a mesh repair in the offseason, and that didn’t seem to fix the problem, so after a couple of months trying to rehab it, I went under the knife again at the end of March and did a different procedure, and that was the longer rehab process,” said Bonomo. “There was a lot of frustration, and I think it felt like rock bottom when I was injured. I wasn’t playing any games, only rehabbing, staying inside doing gym stuff – everything but what I wanted to do as a footballer. Finally, stepping on the field for the first time in July, it was just like a huge sigh of relief.”

Bonomo’s return to action arrived on July 21, as he played the final 18 minutes of a 1-0 win against Toronto FC II at MSU Soccer Park. The following week the Red Bulls II headed to Louisville, which saw Bonomo record his first start and notch his first goal of the year with a fine low finish from the edge of the penalty area.

“Scoring that first goal, I’ve never felt any emotion like that before,” said Bonomo. “From nine months not playing a game to finally coming back and scoring the tying goal in that game, it was an incredible feeling. I think every goal I score now has felt the same way.”

Since that goal against Louisville, Bonomo has proven hard to stop for opposing defenses. He finished the regular season with 10 goals in 13 games and has since added another three in two victories in the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs. Bonomo’s scoring rate currently sits at 92.4 minutes per goal for the season, and his conversion rate at 36 percent, a run of form he’s never previously neared even when he was being named to the All-Pac 12 First Team in 2014 as a senior for Cal.

“It’s just a credit to my teammates, honestly,” said Bonomo. “I think they’ve helped me so much and found me in good spots. My job is to put it in the back of the net, and I think I’m doing exactly what my coaches have asked me to do.”

Photo courtesy Ben Solomon / New York Red Bulls II

While his teammates are creating the chances, Bonomo is proving clinical in putting them away. Watching and learning both from New York Red Bulls marksman Bradley Wright-Phillips and international forwards on television, Bonomo instincts around the penalty area in terms of finding pockets of space for chances or making the right run to meet a delivery from the flanks have put him among elite goal-scoring company in the league.

With Bonomo providing the goals and the relentless, pressing style the Red Bulls II typically bring, you have a team that is approaching every game like it might be its last.

“Coach [John] Wolyniec has us on board that we know every single game we play, we’re going to throw the kitchen sink and hope for the best and enjoy it while it lasts,” said Bonomo. “I think that’s what we’ve been doing, and I think you’ve seen that in the recent success as we’ve played on the road in the last two playoff games.”

No matter how this Saturday night’s game ends, though, Bonomo is grateful to have been along for the ride.

“This journey’s been an absolute roller coaster,” he said. “I’ve felt every different kind of emotion this season. I’ve felt sad, maybe a little depressed, but then ultimately when I’ve been playing games it’s the happiest I’ve ever been. I think that correlates to my performance this season on the field, just how happy and grateful I am to be playing again and helping the team.”

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