Tomas Romero may need to work on his poker face.
The 20-year-old, fresh off his MLS debut on Wednesday for LAFC in a 2-0 win over FC Dallas, could not help but have a big grin break out on his face periodically as he discussed his landmark night.
The goalkeeper, in his first season with LAFC after a year at Georgetown University and previous experience playing in the Philadelphia Union’s youth and reserve ranks, also admitted he needed to try and keep his cool when he was told he got the nod for Wednesday’s game.
“[Goalkeeper coach Zak Abdel] is a funny guy, so he came up to me, he was just smiling,” he told reporters postgame. “And I go ‘OK, I know something’s gonna happen.’ He goes, ‘OK, don’t say anything because obviously I don’t want anyone to know that I told you, but I’m gonna say it anyways.’ He told me ‘I got some good news coming your way,’ and then a couple minutes later, Bob came up to me it was like, yeah, you’re gonna start tomorrow. He said, we’re just having confidence in you right now.
“And then, I tried not to smile because there’s a part of me that I didn’t want to just like expose myself, so I tried to hold in the smile but obviously it means a lot. I’ve made my professional debut in the USL four and a half years ago, so the progression from then until now, it’s been amazing, amazing for me. And to think that almost a year ago because of the pandemic I was training in my best friend’s backyard, that a year later now I get my MLS debut and a shutout. So just from terms of the timeline, everything is just amazing. So I’m really happy.”
Romero was the only LAFC debutant on Wednesday, and head coach Bob Bradley endorsed the youngster’s performance by saying he was “very happy” with the goalkeeper.
Bradley hasn’t been afraid to rotate goalkeepers in his time with the club, and while it sounds as though Pablo Sisniega will remain the starter most of the time, the coach is not afraid to make a change in the back.
Helping Romero be ready for the moment? He’s been playing pretty regularly with LAFC’s reserve team, USL Championship side Las Vegas Lights FC, and he credits the minutes for helping him feel ready for the MLS call.
“When we went into this international break, I had the opportunity to play three games, and that’s super important for anybody, three games in two and a half weeks, and we got good results with the Lights, and I just carried that momentum into this game, and luckily I got the opportunity.”
This is the first year Romero is a full professional, but he does have a considerable amount of experience at USL level. He played in 22 games, 21 starts, prior to Wednesday’s first game at MLS level, the games with Bethlehem Steel coming on a USL Academy contract, allowing him to keep his college eligibility.
He values the opportunity to play at USL level when he can, taking the challenge that he needs to dominate at that level in order to get a sniff in the top flight.
“I understand how important those games are,” he said. “I was told when I was growing up, if you can dominate in a USL game then you should be able to play an MLS game. So, I take it very seriously. When I go down and play with Vegas, because it’s super important if I can’t get clean sheets within the USL, I shouldn’t deserve any playing time in the MLS so it’s extremely important for all the young guys [to use the time with Las Vegas].”
After an NCAA title with the Hoyas, Romero turned pro this year and with Andre Blake entrenched as the starter with the Union, LAFC got Romero’s rights for $50,000 in allocation money.
Sisniega is only 25 himself, a baby by pro goalkeeping terms, but Romero’s promising debut gives hope LAFC may have figured out a position that’s been in flux since the club launched.
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