Brian Romero, 16, helped Charlotte FC beat Chelsea



Everyone at Charlotte FC wanted to congratulate Brian Romero.

Players and team officials walked down the hallway leading to the team locker room and stopped to shout words of encouragement during post-game talks. Interim head coach Christian Lattanzio came over and shook Romero’s hand in a warm handshake before heading to his press conference.

The Bank of America crowd had already showered the 16-year-old academy player with encouraging renditions of his last name as he walked off the pitch, down the tunnel and onto stardom – at least for one night. Every shred of this attention has been earned.

Romero had entered Charlotte’s Wednesday night friendly against Chelsea in the 89th minute, his first-ever action on the pitch for the club.

With little time remaining and Charlotte by a goal, he drew in a pair of defenders as he deflected towards the left corner of the box. His shot deflected off the hand of a Chelsea player, earning the home side a penalty which Daniel Rios converted into a penalty kick, which Charlotte FC won 5-3.

“I just got the ball in my feet,” Romero said. “I continued with my left and then I was like, ‘shoot it.’ There is nothing to lose.

Rising high school junior Jay M. Robinson never saw the referee’s signal for the penalty. Instead, he just saw the ball in the middle, a prone defender and heard a chorus of cheers before re-enacting the scene himself.

“Oh it’s a pen!” It’s a pen!” he recounts dramatically. “Then I became so happy and excited.”

Club owner David Tepper, left, hugs Charlotte FC’s Brian Romero after the win over Chelsea at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte on Wednesday. Khadejeh Nikouyeh

Charlotte FC scouted Romero from the Charlotte Soccer Academy. While he dressed for a pair of pre-season games earlier this year, he remained on the bench for both, making Wednesday’s appearance a special one.

Romero’s mother was driving him on Tuesday night (he has no license or learner’s permit) when he found out he had a chance to play against Chelsea. The striker started screaming with delight upon hearing the news.

Although Romero did not grow up as a Chelsea fan, he has watched them since he was young and knows the team well from their clashes against his favorite side FC Barcelona.

When Lattanzio finally tapped him into the game, Romero said he couldn’t believe it. He moved to the sideline, earning cheers of encouragement from the players on the bench.

“He’s a special player,” said Brandt Bronico. “I mean, he’s a special, special kid. He has a very bright future. »

That future is made brighter by his growth under Lattanzio. The coach, who has been praised for his player development skills, balances giving Romero the freedom to play his game with the discipline a young player needs.

Romero recalled times in practice when the coach warned him to make firm passes and avoid unnecessary dribbling, telling him these were areas for improvement as the big leagues approached.

But he also said Lattanzio let him dribble if necessary, advice that paid off when he got the fateful penalty.

The coach hailed Romero’s confidence, saying he liked his energy and positivity. He also noted that despite his youth, the striker treats everyone on the pitch equally and plays their game rather than being in awe of the moment.

“He’s (a) very respectful kid with the players and the staff,” Lattanzio said. “But when he has the ball, he’s not that respectful.”

This story was originally published July 22, 2022 06:00.

Varun Shankar is a junior at the University of Maryland who is interning with the sports section of The Charlotte Observer for the summer. He is a sportswriter and reporter for the Maryland student newspaper, The Diamondback, and a high school sportswriter for The Washington Post.