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Russell Cicerone is setting himself up to score big in the MLS draft

Russell Cicerone is the reigning MAC Player of the Year.

Russell Cicerone is the reigning MAC Player of the Year. Photo: Paul Hokanson

By Michael Flatt

“When it went viral, I was shocked at how many people were tweeting about it.”
Russell Cicerone
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This video of Russell Cicerone’s 58-yard goal in double overtime against Bryant University in 2014 garnered attention around the globe.

If you were asked to handcraft a résumé for an American soccer star in the making, you might be hard-pressed to write one better than Russell Cicerone’s.

Cicerone, a senior communication major, is currently a prospective high pick in the Major League Soccer (MLS) Super-Draft in January. He has been a star in the Buffalo soccer world for several years. The summer after his freshman year, he set the scoring record for the local semi-pro team, FC Buffalo. Video of his 58-yard goal in double-overtime against Bryant University in 2014 went viral on YouTube and Vine, garnering a few hundred thousand views between the two. And he was the 2015 MAC Player of the Year.

Over the past two summers, Cicerone has practiced with seven MLS teams, giving himself a chance to demonstrate his playmaking skills beside some of the best soccer players in the country, including former Bull and New England Revolution goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth, who signed as a developmental player in June 2009.

“Training at that level is only going to make me better,” says Cicerone, a native of Michigan, where his mother is a state champion high school girls basketball coach and his sister was an academic All-American at Western Michigan University. “I have to get faster and stronger because of how athletic everybody is in that league.”

To that end, Cicerone has been working with the strength, conditioning and nutritional coaches at UB to optimize his performance at the combine, which is a little different from the NFL version. Instead of a battery of strength, speed and agility tests, the MLS combine features a 30-yard sprint and a jump test, followed by two 90-minute games. Cicerone thinks those games will be his best chance to stand out. 

“I’m very diverse in terms of where I can play. I can play midfield, I can play up front. Just the way I think through the game is going to be a huge selling point,” he says.

Those strategic skills can be credited to Bulls head coach Stu Riddle, says Cicerone, who followed Riddle when the coach made the move to UB from Western Michigan, where Cicerone had committed to play.

“I followed Stu because I knew he was going to be successful wherever he went. His practices are very technical, based on ball movement instead of just running or kicking long balls. We play a really good style of soccer,” he says. Cicerone has one more season to play with the Bulls before the draft. That means one more opportunity to return to the MAC Championship match—where UB fell to Akron last season—and, who knows, maybe even top his best-known play, that 2014 game-ending bomb against Bryant.

“When it went viral, I was shocked at how many people were tweeting about it,” Cicerone says. “I was like, ‘This thing is going all over the world!’”

If he continues on his current trajectory, he soon could be doing the same.