CARSON, Calif. – LA Galaxy II head coach Curt Onalfo could tell right away that Dave Romney had something special, that he could make an impact beyond LA's USL team if given the chance.
That opportunity arrived in July, led to Romney’s graduation to the first team a few weeks later, and the 22-year-old defender showed in Saturday's scoreless draw against the Montreal Impact that he could be the future in the middle for MLS's reigning powerhouse.
Romney, making his first league start in the middle, teamed with Omar Gonzalez to shut down Didier Drogba over 90 minutes, earning rave reviews from teammates after the match.
“The bigger the occasion, the best players rise,” Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts noted afterward. “He showed tonight he has a lot of mettle.”
Gonzalez, one of MLS's premier center backs over the past seven seasons, thought Romney, who signed with the first team on Aug. 5 following appearances in friendlies against Club América and Barcelona and a fine showing on loan from Galaxy II at left back in a July 25 loss at Houston, looked like a veteran against Montreal.
“He seemed confident from the get-go, and I made sure to keep chirping in his ear to give him confidence, tell him to keep on stepping with [Drogba] and making it hard on him when Drogba stepped into the middle,” Gonzalez said. “I think Drogba will even admit it was pretty tough playing against me and David.”
For Romney, it was a blast.
“It's something growing up you never think is even a possibility,” he said. “So just given the opportunity, I tried to take advantage of it, playing as aggressively as I could, and I think we kept [Drogba] under wraps pretty good. He got a couple counters in the second half that were pretty dangerous, but outside of that, I think we kept him in check mostly throughout the game.”
Romney went undrafted this year out of the University of San Francisco, but Dons coach Eddie Soto – a former Galaxy Academy coach – alerted Onalfo that he might want to take a good look at the solidly built, 6-foot-2 defender from Irvine, Calif., about 30 miles southeast of StubHub Center.
He had played primarily left back in college, but Onalfo immediately noticed his “good feet” and level of concentration, and he was a fixture in the Galaxy II's lineup at center back from the third game this season.
“The first game, he didn't put a foot wrong,” Onalfo said. “When somebody steps in in that situation and doesn't really put a foot wrong, you know he's going to be a success….
“He's got the profile of a world-class center back. I didn't know a ton about him, other than the fact that I liked what I saw, and I told him that I thought it would be a good idea for him to stick with us and, in our environment, he'll get better. He's one of these kids that when his opportunity came, he took the most of it, and he never looked back.”
The Galaxy called him up for their July friendlies against América and Barcelona – he played one half in each at left back – and then inserted him into the starting XI at Houston in place of suspended Robbie Rogers. Head coach Bruce Arena said Romney was the only LA player to win his battle in the 3-0 loss at the Dynamo.
He played only once more for Galaxy II – he made 16 starts in 18 appearances in all competitions for the reserve side this year – was promoted a week later, then started in the middle in CONCACAF Champions League wins over Trinidad and Tobago's Central FC and Guatemala's Comunicaciones. He also came off the bench in the Aug. 28 defeat at San Jose.
With Leonardo serving a red card suspension on Saturday, Romney got the nod over Tommy Meyer to take on Drogba and the Impact, watching tape of Drogba's hat trick a week earlier against Chicago the night before the match.
“Just watched his movement and watched how he turned off the ball, stuff like that,” Romney said. “I just tried to play him as safe as I could, as aggressive as I could, and things just worked out.”
He made quite the impression.
“He's got a little bit to learn position-wise, but he just went up against Drogba and pretty much shut him down, him and Omar,” right back A.J. DeLaGarza said. “He's got a big upside and [is] a player who's versatile, and that goes a long way.”
Said forward Gyasi Zardes: “You've got to really look out for him. Seriously.”
Romney is taking it all in stride. He says his four months with Galaxy II built his confidence and made his transition to MLS simpler, but he knew he could handle things in the big league.
“I've been watching MLS a lot, [while] playing in college, and every time I watched it on TV, I kind of put myself in each player's shoes and see what kind of decisions that they make and see if I kind of think at that speed,” he said. “And I've always been athletic, so I though athletically I can handle it, and then mentally I think I can process the game quick enough to handle it, so it was just a matter of getting myself into a good system and proving I was a consistent player over time.”