Just a year ago, Roman Celentano was playing college soccer for the Indiana Hoosiers. Now, he’s one of the most in-form goalkeepers in Major League Soccer. Life comes at you fast.
Of course, like so many other success stories for young players in the world of soccer, Celentano got his break purely by accident.
The 22-year-old goalkeeper had spent the first half of the 2022 season on loan at FC Cincinnati’s MLS NEXT Pro affiliate, FC Cincinnati II, shortly after being picked up as the second overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft – becoming the highest drafted goalkeeper since Andre Blake in 2014.
An injury to Alec Kann left Cincinnati short between the sticks so, just days after playing in the US Open Cup against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Celentano was given his MLS debut in a 2-1 loss to LAFC. He hasn’t looked back since.
“That’s how soccer works. Sometimes injuries play a part in the game, so you just have to be ready for whenever your name is called if you’re not regular in the team,” Celentano said of his breakthrough in an exclusive interview with 90min. “I just tried throughout the season to just make sure I was ready if I did get an opportunity. I was surprised maybe by getting the opportunity so early.
“I didn’t have too high expectations coming in, but anything can happen in football. So I was just ready for whatever.”
The man Celentano has replaced in the starting XI, Kann, probably has every right to feel slightly bitter. The 32-year-old has been a perennial No.2 and joined Cincinnati at the start of the season in search of more minutes after spending four seasons as Brad Guzan’s back-up for Atlanta United.
But ask any former teammate of Kann’s and they’ll tell you he’s one of the nicest guys in MLS. There are no hard feelings from former Ajax, Feyenoord, and Netherlands goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer, either.
“Alec has been class the whole time,” said Celentano. “Just no matter what’s happened. He’s just been a top professional on and off the field, making sure we’re all sorted in. Kenneth Vermeer who’s played at the highest level in Europe, too.
“There’s nothing going on. All the guys are super supportive and while we’re all competing for the same job at the end of the day, there’s only one guy in the field. So we all support the guy out there.”
In the 22 MLS games since Celentano’s debut, FC Cincinnati have lost just three times. The Orange and Blue currently sit sixth in the Eastern Conference and are just a couple more results away from securing their first-ever appearance in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
For a team that has finished rock-bottom overall in each of its three previous seasons in MLS to make the Playoffs would be an incredible feat.
“Obviously, we haven’t done anything yet, but from where this club’s been, it’d be just a great reward to the fans and everyone who’s put so much in to see this club make the Playoffs for the first time,” said Celentano. “So we just got to stay focused. And with the opportunity comes, it’d be a special moment for the group.”
Celentano has been playing soccer since he was 10 years old. Back then, the likes of Tim Howard and Brad Friedel were the icons of American goalkeeping. Nowadays, it’s Zack Steffen, Matt Turner, and Gabriel Slonina leading the charge from the United States to Europe.
Steffen and Turner, in particular, offer extra inspiration to Celentano given their humble college roots, with the former on loan at Middlesbrough from Premier League champions Manchester City, while the latter joined London giants Arsenal this summer.
“It’s inspiring to see guys like Matt Turner and Zack Steffen go the college route like myself,” said Celentano. “Obviously, there are some great American goalkeepers that have gone directly to Europe, but for guys like me that went through college, it’s nice to see that there are guys like Matt, and Zack Steffen who was at Maryland and now he’s playing for Middlesbrough and Man City.
“It’s just an inspiration for me that anything can happen. It’s encouraging to see what’s ahead.”
Nobody needs to ask Celentano if he harbors aspirations of his own to move to Europe; that’s the dream for the vast majority of young American players coming through in MLS right now.
The Illinois-born goalkeeper revealed to 90min that Chelsea legend Petr Cech was his idol growing up and that the Czech Republic stopper helped him become a fan of the Blues all those years ago.
However, right now, his focus remains on FC Cincinnati and their bid to finally make the Playoffs and become a competitive MLS team.
“It’s still really early in my career and it’s just my first season right now. I’m just trying to stay focused on the next game and hopefully making the playoffs this year,” Celentano responded when asked about European ambitions. “Then, if we have conversations down the road in a couple of years or so about that, we’ll talk about that when it comes, but for now, I’m just completely focused on the next game and just whatever happens this year.”
Regardless of whether he makes it to Europe and the United States Men’s National Team, or plays out a career as a No.1 in MLS, Celentano’s rapid rise from college goalkeeper to professional has been a remarkable one already.
His advice for the next crop of young college goalkeepers looking for their big break?
“Have some patience and bet on yourself. Everyone has a different path. And as long as you just stay focused with the hand you’ve been dealt and just try to make the most of your opportunities, anything can happen.”