For the past three seasons, Marist men’s soccer has banked on lockdown goalie play from Sam Ilin.
This year, uncertainty existed with a changing of the guard happening in goal for the Red Foxes, as graduate student goaltender Luca Bulfon has emerged onto the scene. Bulfon, from Rivignano-Teor, Italy has experience playing here in the states, suiting up for University of South Carolina Upstate for three seasons.
In the three seasons Bulfon has played for the Spartans, he collected 174 total saves and his goals against average was an astounding 1.76. Bulfon was a staple of Sparty’s defense, so why did he depart for Marist?
For some athletes, it comes down to playing sports, but for Bulfon, his decision was centered on academics.
“I was looking for a school to complete my masters and got an offer from Marist, and the campus is amazing,” said Bulfon. “There are new people I was excited to meet. They also had the master that I was interested in doing, [Information Systems and Business Analytics], and the coaches have been great to the team, and I’m enjoying it so far.”
Bulfon is always up for a challenge. A change of scenery was nothing new to him coming from Italy and South Carolina. He of course will have to adjust to the colder weather, yet he welcomes the chance to leave familiarity behind.
“I found it to be a little bit of a challenge. Get out of my comfort zone. Get a new brand new team, see how they fit into it,” said Bulfon. “And yeah, get in a new conference. Just a different experience. To be honest, it was a new challenge.”
In 2022, Bulfon was named to the All Second Team Big South for his play. Bulfon started right where he left off, as he had 10 saves in the opening game of the season for the Red Foxes against Hofstra.
He now has begun accruing MAAC accolades, being named MAAC Defensive Player of the Week on Labor Day for his performance against Florida Atlantic University; he picked up his first clean sheet as a Red Fox, collecting five saves. Bulfon has found a second home at Marist, and his impact has been immediate for this team.
“Yeah, it took me a little while to get used to it,” said Bulfon. I wasn’t having a great performance at the beginning, against Hofstra. Yes, it was nice, but we still lost so not a great result. It was good for me. Thenl get a little bit of confidence back when we went back to Florida and won there. That helped going back to the grass, and we got the results we were looking for.”
The last name may sound familiar to soccer fans who have never heard of Bulfon. Arguably one of the best goaltenders of all time has a similar name to Bulfon, but not quite the same spelling.
Gianluigi Buffon, no relation to Luca, is regarded by many as the best Italian goalkeeper of all time. One might surmise he would model his game after Buffon, but that is not the case.
He does, however, model his game after another famous Italian goalie: Samir Handanovic. Handanovic spent time with Udinese on two separate occasions, where he started every match for them for five years. He then moved to play for Inter Milan from 2012- 2015, before retiring from play in 2016.
Bulfon also played for the Udinese youth team, a very prestigious club, as only the best youth in the area are allowed on the team. The average age of the team is around 17 years old, and it is said to be one of the hardest soccer clubs to get into in all of Italy. He excelled there under the guidance of his favorite keeper, Handanovic.
“[Buffon is] actually not even one of my favorites, to be honest,” said Bulfon. “When I was younger, I played for the city youth team, Udinese, and I had the pleasure to practice with [Handanovic] when I was back there. Then he went to [Inter Milan], so pretty good goalkeeper, and I enjoyed the effort he would put in practice, the seriousness the great keeper had. He was a very quiet guy and very calm.”
Marist men’s soccer head coach Matt Viggiano has had a plethora of standout goalies play for him in his 17 years at the helm. He believes Bulfon has played very well so far this season and credits him for adding a level of stability to the team.
“I’m pleased, obviously, he’s played well, he’s been a nice calming influence in the back,” said Viggiano. “Obviously, he’s made saves he needed to make and a couple that maybe necessarily you don’t expect him to, but so far so good, as they say.”
Viggiano also referenced how Bulfon has become a leader in his short time as a Red Fox, particularly due to the youthness of Marist this season. Viggiano started five freshmen in their season opener, in stark contrast to Hofstra’s all-veteran side.
“I mean, obviously, we made a conservative effort to kind of get experience in the back,” Viggiano said. “If you look at the landscape of college soccer right now, we’re actually kind of swimming against the tide. When we started five freshmen against Florida Gulf Coast, and they had seven graduate students in their starting lineup, and there wasn’t anybody under 21 years old starting for them. So we’re – it was a concerted effort to get experience, so that’s why we wanted to graduate goalkeeper.”
Culture is a very important aspect of a team, especially in soccer. As the team found out a season ago, a lack of culture can lead to a lack of on-field success. Finding culture in a young team can be hard at times, but for Bulfon, he sees a young team with a culture on the rise not even a month into the season.
“I mean, we have a lot of newcomers, a lot of freshmen as well, but you can tell we’re already a team.” said Bulfon. “We just came back from a match where we were losing one zero and then we turned it around and one to one, even with a lot of freshman’s a lot of newcomers. So that means a lot of positives to take out.”
Bulfon has had plenty of experience playing division one soccer and with experience comes accountability. Bulfon knows what level he should be playing at, and so do his coaches.
The Marist men’s soccer goalie coach, Zack Decker, in his second year with the team, has extensive experience playing goalie. Residing from Red Hook, 22 miles from Marist College, he played goalie for SUNY Albany. He believes that Bulfon has played well in the early going, but struggled in the beginning to find his footing.
“I think that when he came in, he was a little less than the level that we expect him to be at. He knows what he was supposed to be at,” said Decker. “And he started, like I said, a little lower level. So he really persevered through that and he really pushed himself and trained hard to get himself back to where he needed to be. And yeah, that’s what makes me very proud of him, just pushing through the adversity.”
With a new team and new culture, Bulfon is looking to continue his strong play in between the goal posts for the Marist Red Foxes while also strengthening his case to be MAAC Defensive Player of the Year, with the ultimate goal of bringing a MAAC Championship back to Poughkeepsie.
Edited by Luke Sassa and Ben Leeds
Graphic: Cara Lacey; Photo via Marist Athletics