A lot of players have come through the Bethlehem Steel FC ranks since the team started in 2016, but until this week only one had been named the USL Championship Player of the Week.
That distinction belonged to Seku Conneh until academy goalkeeper Tomas Romero turned in an 11-save performance in a 1-0 win at Louisville City last Saturday. The clean sheet was just the second in a Steel kit for the 18-year-old from Cherry Hill, N.J. who has made 16 appearances dating back to his debut in 2017.
The recent YSC Academy grad was in training with the first team this week and was quick to point to his coaches when asked about the Player of the Week honor. While he’s worked primarily with Steel FC goalkeeper coach Phil Wheddon he’s also spent time with first team assistant Oka Nikolov and academy goalkeeper coach Adrian Heredia.
“It shows a lot about the coaches, the way I have progressed from playing USL games,” Romero said. “I feel like I’ve learned each game that I’ve played and the mistakes I’ve made and then finally I come to this game against Louisville and I made one or two little mistakes but nothing crucial or game-changing really and I think I learned from all the other games.”
Walter Cortés had the lone goal in the 26th minute and it was Romero coming up with several key saves, including a double save in the second half, that led the Steel to their first win over Louisville City in front of a crowd of 8,965 at Louisville Slugger Field.
Louisville had 60 percent of the possession on the night and ripped 35 shots, 11 of those on goal.
“It’s fun but I was also really nervous in the last eight or 10 minutes,” Romero said of the pressure applied by the two-time defending USL Cup champions. “In those type of games when you’re making saves it doesn’t feel easy but it starts to feel comfortable and you get in a rhythm.”
While Romero has trained pretty extensively with the first team and Steel over the past three seasons while also getting games in with the U19 team, game time in the USL Championship has been key to the El Salvador youth international’s growth this season.
“Tomas has matured a ton because of all the opportunities that we’ve given him but more importantly how he’s approached those opportunities over the last three years,” Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke said. “He’s been the youngest to do many things in the league and that says a lot about him and his preparation and his growth and his commitment to development at every stage of the club.”
All the work hasn’t added up to a professional contract just yet — the plan is still to report to Georgetown in a couple weeks, where he’ll compete for playing time with Greek youth international Giannis Nikopolidis — but he’s learned a lot about what it means to be a professional.
“The more games you play you see there might be mistakes in one game and you at least have half a week to work on it and another half to prepare for the next game,” Romero said. “Last year was kind of tough because I only played one game but that’s part of being a professional and having the mentality to stay through it, but this year made up for it, it’s been good.”
Romero was recently with the El Salvador U23s for a training camp after spending time at the younger youth levels with his father’s native country, including in the Concacaf U17 Championship in 2016, something that has provided additional opportunities to learn and grow both as a goalkeeper and a leader on and off the field.
He’s also had the benefit of battling in training with U.S. youth international Kris Shakes, an incoming freshman at Penn State, and the Cornell-bound Brady McSwain, something that will serve him well at Georgetown, where he hopes to follow a path homegrown goalkeeper Matt Freese blazed when he went from academy to Harvard for two seasons to signing a first team contract last December. Former Georgetown goalkeeper JT Marcincowski spent three seasons with the Hoyas before signing a homegrown deal with the San Jose Earthquakes.
“I’m just hoping to go my first year, play a lot of games and we’ll see what happens after that,” Romero said.
Bethlehem Steel plays Saint Louis FC tonight.
How to Watch
When: July 27, 2019, 8:30 p.m. EST
Location: World Wide Technology Soccer Park, Fenton, Mo.
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