Key Stat: 24 – the number of MLS starts he made for LAFC and Toronto FC over three seasons
The acquisition of goalkeeper Tomás Romero two days ago came as a surprise.
A position that remained a question mark for most of last year seemed much more settled as the team prepares for the coming season. By all indications, Matt Freese will be the starter of choice for New York City FC head coach Nick Cushing on opening day. He replaces Luis Barraza, who will likely be on the bench after starting on opening day in 2023. The lineup card looks to be set.
The squad lost third-string goalkeeper Cody Mizell in the offseason to DC United, where he will be goalkeeper coach. But the front office elevatedNYCFC II’s Alex Rando to the First Team on January 12, and he looked to take over that key role of backup-to-the-backup.
But now Romero joins the roster for the 2024 season, with options that could keep him with New York City through 2026, and it’s unclear what that will do to the depth chart.
Tomás Romero: International man of mystery
Romero spent last season with Toronto FC, where he made six starts after goalkeeper (and former NYCFC captain) Sean Johnson was sidelined with a broken hand. Romero allowed 13 goals in those games, and failed to log a single clean sheet, but it’s hard to judge his level of play on a dysfunctional club that tanked their season in more ways than we can count here.
Romero also made 18 starts for LAFC in 2021, when they finished in ninth place and failed to make the playoffs. Those combined 24 MLS league starts puts him level with Freese (24 MLS starts for NYCFC and the Philadelphia Union), and just behind Barraza (29 MLS starts for NYCFC). To go purely by starts, the three have comparable levels of league experience.
But what sets Romero apart is his international record: The 23-year-old has 10 caps with the El Salvador national football team, which is currently ranked #50 by FIFA — that puts them just behind South Korea, and just above Senegal.
Romero last featured for El Salvador on October 17, 2023, when he saved a penalty to preserve a 0-0 draw with Martinique in a CONCACAF Nations League group-stage match. He made three saves to log a clean sheet, which earned him an 8.2 rating from FotMob. Not too shabby.
But his prior start on September 11 against Trinidad and Tobago didn’t go so well. El Salvador lost 2-3 at home, and Romero didn’t log a single save. FotMob gave him a game-worst 5.0 rating.
Romero might be a sometimes-starter for a legit national team, but his international record is mixed.
#2, #3, or #4?
Still, that kind of international experience isn’t what you’d expect of a third-string goalkeeper, who’s usually more about locker room vibes and training ground drills than representing your country at the Estadio Nacional Jorge Mágico González in San Salvador. Mizell was a popular figure at NYCFC, and yet he didn’t see a single minute of game time in three years at the club.
Does that mean that Romero will be #2 on the depth chart?
But Romero was waived by Toronto after the end of the 2023 season. Right now Toronto have just two goalkeepers, Johnson and the 23-year-old Luka Gavran, who was signed last August through the MLS Extreme Hardship mechanism to restock the depleted squad. For some reason, Romero was let go from one of the worst clubs in MLS despite room on the roster.
Does that put Romero at #3?
It’s safe to say that #1 isn’t up for grabs: Freese is Cushing’s clear choice for the team’s Starting XI. But Romero could compete with Barraza for the #2 spot: Romero is four years younger than the 27-year-old Barraza, and he has those 10 international caps.
But Romero isn’t much of a shot-stopper, with a 65.7% save rate that puts him down in the 12th percentile.
If Romero is simply a replacement for Mizell as the #3 goalkeeper, that could send Rando back to NYCFC II. Rando’s heir apparent at NYCFC II, the 17-year-old Alexander Yagudayev, recently announced he was leaving the team to attend college. Right now, NYCFC II are in need of a goalkeeper.
Could Romero and Rando take turns cycling through NYCFC II? That’s unthinkable for a player with Romero’s experience, but why sign Rando to a First Team contract in January only to keep him at NYCFC II?
A roster shakeup?
Or there’s a dark-horse option, in which Barraza leaves the club.
NYCFC exercised their 2024 option for Barraza last October, and there’s another option for 2025. Barraza’s guaranteed salary in 2023 was just $152,688, which put him at #45 for MLS goalkeepers – he made less than most backups – so he doesn’t have much impact on the team’s salary cap. (Freese’s guaranteed salary was $180,000 in 2023, and Romero’s was $125,000.)
But it’s hard to earn and then lose the starting role, and go from playing 90 minutes in front of tens of thousands of screaming fans (on a good day) to warming up the forwards before the start of the game. If another club sees Barraza as a potential #1, he might leave New York City.
Barraza turned 27 last November, which makes him the third-oldest player on a young squad that’s getting younger with every new signing. The 23-year-old Romero just might have more of a future with the club.