Somewhere between the ages of 2 and 3, Dorchester’s Mateo Buyu learned to kick a soccer ball in his backyard and develop what became a deep love for the sport that after 15 years of training and devotion has landed the Milton Academy standout on the 2022 High School Boys All-America team.
All of which is overwhelming, Buyu said in an interview last week, but also something he has aspired to since he first took the pitch at Dorchester Youth Soccer (DYS) games.
“My dad put me on the field at 2 years old playing for DYS,” he said. “I started playing a lot and getting good. When I was 2, I probably stood around a lot on the field, but maybe at 3 years old, I fell in love with it. I learned how to kick a ball and my dad would play in the backyard with me a lot. That’s when I just never wanted to stop playing.”
This month, the senior goalie, who on average this season he let in less than a goal a game, learned that he was one of 45 boys nationwide and 43 girls to be named to the 12th annual All-America team, which will be split into two squads – East and West – for games that will be played on Dec. 10 in Panama City, Florida. Buyu is one of two goalies on the roster of the East team, and one of three Massachusetts players, the others being Harry Bertos of the Brooks School and T.J. Liquori of Worcester Academy.
Three girls from Massachusetts made the All-America team and will play on the Girls East Team on Dec. 10: Maddie Landers of the Pingree School, Rylie Moschella of Dexter Southfield, and Sophie Reale of Hingham High School.
Said Buyu of his selection: “Milton Academy has had an All-American each year for the last 10 years. I remember seeing that last year and thinking it would be cool if I could be there next year. I try not to think about it too much until after our season is over.”
His mother, Virginia Benzan, said she has watched a lot of her son’s games, and what sticks out to her is his humbleness. “He has a quiet leadership and people really respond to it,” she said. “Everybody likes the hype guy, but the guy who is steady and manages his emotions…can provide just as much leadership as the guy pumping you up or giving speeches. He leads by example.”
Chris Kane, Buyu’s coach at Milton, said the goalie was crucial this year to sealing up a league title last week against North Andover’s Brooks School.
“Mateo has been a standout leader during his time at Milton and he has been a huge part of our team’s success this season, helping lead our team to a league championship,” he said. “He is one of the most talented goalkeepers in the country and his selection as an All-American speaks to his talent and accomplishments as a student athlete.”
Buyu has also been a “key tone setter for his peers and role model for younger students; he’s always looking for opportunities to give back,” Kane added.
He has been steady in goal for the last two years, playing alongside his cousin, sophomore Hayes Benzan, and his brother, Diego Buyu, who is now at Northwestern University but was also a standout at Milton Academy.
Their father, Chris Buyu, was a Division 3 player at Clark University after coming to the United States from Africa, so soccer talent runs deep in the family, and the youngest Buyu has capitalized on that, landing a Division 1 soccer scholarship to Providence College, a nationally known program in the NCAA universe.
Although he intends to play as long as he can, Mateo said college soccer will be the challenge that determines how long his love of the game can last. “If I do well at Providence, then I want to go on for professional or semi-professional,” he said. “I want to play for my country. I think it would be sick to play in the World Cup or the Olympics.”
Seeing elite athletes in his family succeed has made a big impression on Mateo as he watched them make the decisions on when to hang up the cleats or put away the basketball. Another cousin, Katie Benzan, was a standout at Nobles & Greenough in basketball and an All-America in college for Harvard and the University of Maryland. She played in the WNBA, he said, but last year decided to move away from the sport.
“She didn’t enjoy it anymore, even though she could have kept playing,” he said.
A continuing love for the sport is not a problem nowadays for Buyu, though. He is devoted to his club team, the Boston Bolts, with whom he plays after the fall high school season. Prior to the Bolts, he played for REAL Boston and then the FC Valeo team in Boston while attending Dorchester’s Neighborhood House Charter School (NHCS). It was at Valeo that he was introduced to the goalie position, which wasn’t his choice at first.
“The first two years I didn’t like it at all,” he said. “Some games, we played terrible teams and I wanted to be in the field. I would cry after the game. My coach told me to stick with it and Valeo got a goalie coach, and he changed the way I look at the position.”
At the same time, Buyu kept fresh by playing outside of the goalie box at Dorchester Youth Soccer – giving him the status of a goalie who uses his feet well, and getting him more attention nationally.
Making saves has been a hallmark this year for Buyu. “Some goalies get noticed for yelling and screaming, but I’m more of a quiet goalie,” he said. “What’s different about me is I like to play with my feet even as a goaltender. We kick the ball around in the back and my teammates like that. That gets you noticed, along with making a bunch of saves.”