While most 16-year-olds are enjoying the final stretch of their summer vacations, goalkeeper Tomas Romero added another accomplishment to his list when Bethlehem Steel FC defeated Ottawa Fury FC, 2-1, last weekend. The result made Romero the youngest keeper in USL history to win a league match.
“The win is special but first it's about the guys because bounced back just like I did after a few losses,” Romero said. “We all bounced back in training and to win in Ottawa, it’s a big boost for the squad going forward.”
Romero is no stranger breaking USL records or performing on the big stage, having started two matches for the El Salvador U17’s at the CONCACAF U-17 Championships in April. Prior to leaving for Panama with the national team, the Cherry Hill, N.J., native became the youngest keeper to start a league match, when Steel FC opened the season against Rochester Rhinos on April 1. Romero regularly trains with both Steel FC and the first team and the accomplishment was something he and the organization had been preparing for.
“I was really grateful to get the match ball but I’m also very thankful to even have these opportunities in professional matches,” Romero said. “I’ve been in the Philadelphia Union Academy system for a few years now and I’m really thankful for everything they have done for me. From the Academy to playing with Bethlehem Steel FC, this is history for all involved. I’m happy for myself but also hope that all those involved are happy too because the ultimate goal is to succeed on the big stage and thankfully this weekend, I got my first.”
The win came at the right time for Romero and showed both his and the team’s resilience. After falling to first-place Charlotte Independence, 4-0, the week before. Romero and the rest of the squad turned the back and didn’t look back on the loss.
“I knew during that game that there wasn’t much I could have really done stopping those four goals because they were mostly cutbacks and you’d have to be beyond amazing to make saves from one post to the other so it really didn’t shake my confidence,” Romero said. “I am very strong mentally and even though four goals went in, those things happen as a goalkeeper and you have to just come back even stronger. I came back in training the following week and I think it was one of my best yet both mentally and technically and luckily it paid off.”
After a strong week in training, the squad headed north to Ottawa and found itself under the wrong sound of a fortunate goal. Fury FC jumped out to the early lead on a fortunate bounce from Tucker Hume, who fired a cross the bounced off a Steel FC defender and inside the near post of Romero’s net. Despite the early deficit, Romero and Steel FC wasn't shaken by it.
“Coach Burke told in at halftime that we were had to keep doing what we had been doing and the goals would come,” Romero said. “He saw that we were playing better and we all knew that the own goal was unlucky but wouldn’t define the match in the second half. We went into the half thinking the game was scoreless and we weren’t tense.”
The rookie duo of Chris Nanco and Santi Moar led the attack for Steel FC in the second half. Nanco fired the equalizer on a quick volley from Cory Burke while Moar tallied his first game-winning goal in the 81st minute.
“When the whistle finally blew, I was really excited,” Romero said. “I was even happier when we got the second goal because I knew that momentum was on our side. I knew I was going to have to help the team finish it out and I was confident that we could get the three points.”
While the team celebrated the victory, they quickly realized the history that had been made in the Canadian capital. As a gift for the accomplishment, the team presented Romero with the match ball while Romero’s cell phone exploded with numerous text messages.
“I had a lot of people texting me congratulations and both of my parents were really happy to see me get my first victory,” Romero said. “My dad loves soccer and talking about the game so it was something extra special for him to talk about.”
With USL records for the youngest keeper to win, draw and start behind him, Romero has another goal in his sights. A clean sheet.