TORONTO, Canada—Since August, Richmond Hill, Ontario native Rocco Romeo has been quietly putting in work.
During the summer, the 20-year-old Toronto FC centreback was loaned out to HB Køge in Denmark, tasked with facing much older (and tougher) competition away from home. The experience has helped Romeo mature in more ways than one.
“I was very happy that I got the playing time that I did and the success that the team did, and it was fantastic for me because I did develop as a footballer and as a man because living on your own at such a young age and having to take care of yourself, do your own things—not have mom and dad do it for you all the time—it really matured me in more of an adulthood aspect,” Romeo told Waking the Red Weekly on Tuesday.
Physically, Romeo also appears to have taken that next step. Standing at 6-foot-4 inches tall, the young Canadian defender believes he’s now just starting to fill out his large frame.
“I’m very vocal, loud presence,” said Romeo, when asked to describe himself. “I’m a tall guy, so myself being 6-foot-4, people notice you and they’re like ‘who’s that freakishly tall guy?’ Being a CB too, I need to be like a vocal point in the team, always directing people and making sure everything is organized.
“And I’m really starting to fill into my body now, because before when I was younger, I used to be a skinny kid, but now I’m starting to fill into my body and be more aggressive.”
Self-described as more of a modern-day centre-back, Romeo prides himself on his technical ability despite his large stature. He’s comfortable being on the ball, whether that be dribbling the ball forward or even hitting a couple of diagonals, he believes he can do it all consistently and do it well.
Growing up playing for the Woodbridge Strikers as a holding midfielder at times, the homegrown academy product had four idols that he modeled his game after: Paolo Maldini, Virgil van Dijk, Sergio Ramos, and David Luiz.
“I say four because I can’t name one,” explained Romeo. “I take something from each one of those four. So, David Luiz, for example, (I take) his calmness and his technical ability, whether to hit a straight diagonal or whether the diagonal was curving to fullback or whatnot.”
And Romeo’s hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed.
New Toronto FC head coach Chris Armas made sure he reached out to Romeo, the only TFC first-team player currently out on loan, and the two had a positive and open conversation about what the new gaffer expects and the type of player Romeo is.
As well, the 20-year-old was recently named to the Canadian U-23 50-man provisional roster for Olympic qualifiers in Mexico, a tournament that will take place later this month. For Romeo, cracking that roster has been his top priority.
“I haven’t been a part with the national team since the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship, so it’s been a while,” said Romeo. “And honestly, it’s been on my mind a lot lately, and I’ve really been wanting to represent the men’s team. So, I just keep my head down, I just keep working, keep grinding, fight for minutes to get playing time, give the Canada staff something to look at and show something that they need or don’t have already.
“It’s been at the forefront of my mind because I want to represent my country. I want to be a part of that squad—be a part of that team—who has these ambitions of going to the Olympics or even qualifying for the World Cup, and I feel like I’m ready.”
When asked if it was perhaps harder to get the same recognition and notice overseas in comparison to others playing locally, Romeo, candidly, spoke like a true professional.
“I personally think that it doesn’t matter how old you are or where you are playing as long as you have the quality and you’re showing everyday and you’re giving them no reason to pick you, I don’t see why someone shouldn’t get selected,” answered the youngster. “It doesn’t matter if I’m on loan in Denmark, or someone is playing in Latvia, or someone is playing back home in Toronto or Montreal, if you have the quality and you show them no reason why you shouldn’t get selected, then it is what it is.”
Romeo was one of seven natural centre-backs named to Canada’s 50-player provisional list. He will be competing with the likes of Vancouver Whitecaps’ Derek Cornelius and fellow Toronto FC teammate Julian Dunn for a spot on the Olympic roster.
If he doesn’t make it, it’s not (by any means) the end-all-be-all for Romeo, as 2021 promises to be a pivotal year in the development for the up-and-coming youngster. His loan deal with HB Køge expires at the end of June, and you can bet that he’ll be itching to make a mark for himself when he returns home to Toronto, especially with a new head coach to impress.
“It’s been at the forefront of my mind, and as you said, it is exciting times, so hopefully everything works out. And if not, it’s fine—we keep going. I put my head down and keep working and we wait for another opportunity,” said Romeo. “When I finish my loan, of course, I’m going to be looking forward to making an impact on the team and have a good first impression on the coach and play a key role on the squad moving forward.”
Canada will name its 23-player Olympic qualifying roster before next Tuesday’s March 9 deadline.