When you ask the typical 16-year-old what they did over the weekend, not many will be able to top goalkeeper Tomas Romero’s answer. During Bethlehem Steel FC’s 2017 opener against the Rochester Rhinos, Romero made his professional debut and USL history by becoming the youngest goalkeeper to start in net.
“I was a little nervous and it took a while for it to hit me that I would actually be starting in a professional match,” Romero said. “My first thought was that I would be going up against men that nearly double my age, bigger and maybe stronger than me but my path had prepared me for the opportunity. I knew that I could play at this level right now and even though there were some mistakes, the experiences from Saturday will only make me a better goalkeeper.”
“It was his first game and he made really good save during the second half and I thought his kicking was good and managed the game really well,” Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke said following the match. “It’s good experience for him to have to deal with a little scrum in the box at the end, he has to get better at that but it will come in time.”
Romero’s path to his pro debut has already been building over many years and was aided by the Philadelphia Union Academy, where he’s been enrolled since eighth grade. During his time in the Academy, the Cherry Hill, N.J., native has faced many tests but come out on top every time.
“I started out at the Union Academy in eighth grade and when I first arrived at the facilities, it felt like I was already a professional soccer player at that moment. That moment has stuck with me and to now be training with professionals daily is something special.”
Saturday’s contest wasn’t Romero’s first taste of professional soccer up close. Last season, Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke selected the then 15-year-old to the team’s matchday 18 roster against the Charleston Battery on September 10, 2016. From the sidelines, Romero was able to absorb the differences between Academy matches and the game at the professional level.
“In the Academy, our matches are about learning from mistakes and having fun while going into the professional level, the bar is raised with every single match counting toward a bigger picture. Luckily I was able to get a taste of it last year when I made the (matchday) 18 and got to take in the professionalism that helped prepare me.”
Throughout the entire journey, Romero has had many new opportunities present themselves. During the preseason, Romero not only trained with Steel FC, but was invited to Florida to take part in the Philadelphia Union’s training camp. With all the success so far in his young career, Romero credits his work ethic for getting him to this level and for pushing through when times were hard.
“The journey has been a grind and tough. I remember at the start of last year, it started to hit me all the normal teenage things that I would be giving up to focus on soccer. But as the weeks and months moved along, I began to realize that this is something that I want to do because all the hard work has paid off as I’ve progressed in my youth career.”
That progress includes Romero suiting up for El Salvador’s U17 team that will compete in the CONCACAF U17 Championship starting on April 23 in Panama. During the qualification stage, Romero started against Belize on Nov. 21 and helped lead the squad to a 2-1 victory that helped secure the final spot into the tournament.
“Playing for El Salvador is once again a completely different challenge. The level of play on the international stage is obviously quite different and the style of play is also a challenge. However, it’s great experience for me because I get to see the different aspects of soccer and compete against some of the best players in my age group.”
Romero and El Salvador are in the tournament’s ‘Group of Death’ with the group including six-time and defending champions Mexico, three-time champion the United States and Jamaica. The group stage kicks off for Romero on April 23 against Mexico, followed up with matches against the Reggae Boyz and the U.S.