A quick look at new Steel signing Matt Real

Photo: Courtesy of Bethlehem Steel

On Tuesday afternoon Bethlehem Steel FC announced they had signed Union Academy left back Matt Real to their USL roster.

The 17-year-old Real is the 10th of the required minimum of 12 USL professional roster signings by Steel FC for 2017.

Left back is a position of scarcity on the soccer pitch roughly comparable to that of left-handed pitchers in baseball, a circumstance that makes one wonder whether the Union-Steel organization was forestalling interest from other sources.

A native of Drexel Hill who has been with the Union’s youth structure since he was 9, Real has extensive experience with the various USMNT youth teams, most recently in the 2016 season “playing up” as a 16 year-old with the U-18s.

His start at Rochester

He started one game with Steel FC last year, May 28 away to defending champion Rochester Rhinos, and for the first 5/6ths of his minutes on the pitch he contributed solidly to the Steel’s efforts to derail the Rhinos’ long home undefeated streak.

In fact, he was sufficiently effective as an almost-17 year old kid (DOB: July 10, 1999) that Rochester Coach Bob Lilley specifically targeted him with a substitution, attacking him with an older, vastly more experienced, and highly physical new flank midfielder in an effort to generate breakthroughs.

Bethlehem head coach Brendan Burke stuck with Real for about ten minutes to see if he could adjust after over seventy minutes of his first USL professional game, a clear and important statement of Burke’s confidence in the young man. But it became evident that the adjustment was unlikely to happen, and in the interest of sustaining the lead, coach sent on Nick Bibbs as a sub. After all, playing with and against adult male professionals is not the same as playing one’s peers in age and physical development. It demands more.

Real had a couple of minutes on the pitch in a second game as a substitute against Toronto FC II, but the Rochester game is the single piece of solid evidence at the professional level available to Steel fans that anticipates yesterday’s announcement.

A hint in 2016

The departure of Taylor Washington inferred that Real would be given every opportunity to earn daily practice with the Steel and a starting role with the team on a zero dollar “amateur contract,” oxymoron though that the phrase seems to the uninitiated. He was clearly a candidate to be evaluated for some type of deal once he was 18 years old and legally an adult. That he has signed early before reaching his legal majority is a step new to Union past practice save for Zach Pfeffer, but one not surprising when compared to other organizations in this country and  overseas.

Still on schedule for his high school diploma

An additional question any parent reading this will ask concerns the young man’s high school diploma.

Dr. Nooha Ahmed Lee, YSC Academy’s Head of School, replied via email to the diploma question, “ … Matt will be completing his high school diploma and graduate on schedule from YSC Academy. We are all very proud of him.”

The detailed mechanics of how that will be done will likely be the subject of a future PSP post after we have explored the subject further with Dr. Ahmed Lee and her staff. Auston Trusty experienced something very similar last year when earning his diploma while practicing daily with the Steel and travelling to their games.

A Philly focus

We suspect Academy Director Tommy Wilson would point out that of the four recent YSC academy signings, Real and Trusty are native to the Delaware Valley, and Derrick Jones was discovered after settling here from his native Ghana. Only Yosef Samuel, who came to the Academy from Atlanta, is truly from elsewhere.

Said Real after his signing with the Steel, “I was really excited when I found out I was joining the Steel, for the reason that this is my hometown and I always wanted to be a part of this organization. The club gave me this opportunity to sign my first contract here and I’m excited. I will always want give back to them for giving me this amazing chance.”


  1. I like this…
    Good signs. Maybe MLS never quite matches the gumption of starting an 18 year old in Champion’s League play but a 17 year old spending 2 years playing against men ought to provide the stimuli and development necessary for the special ones to be taking the field at Talen by 19 or 20 which is a Far Cry (Rush shout out) from the top 8 or ten draft pick 22 year olds expected to jump from NC or Maryland to MLS starting positions as brand new rookies when the rest of the world has 22 year old seasoned pros.
    The development of youth through academy is so important- provided the academy doesn’t try to fit each round kid into a round hole. There are those kids who will, I hope, refuse to compromise their style of play, their individuality- their creative impulses in the name of homogeneity… and hopefully will be caressed and urged to be unique.
    — these are the players we most need in US and MLS soccer… as the rising tide of general technical and tactical astute-ness improves.
    As Pep says, and I have heard many times…”my job is to teach you how to get to the final third – from there the game is one of instinct.”

    • There is room for both the Academy system and the draft. I agree with the concept of the Academy kids learning at a faster clip when they play against older, more skilled competition. But one system does not need to be used exclusively.
      Something to keep in mind in regards to the Academies is that ours is still in its infancy. And even the most advanced MLS Academy is still only, what? 10 years old? This is not an overnight process. All things in good time.
      In another 10 years, my hope is that there is a path for the kids who wanted to play professionally at 18 years old, as well as a door for the kids who wanted to go to college first, and then become pros. There should be opportunities for both.

    • To add to the”Insane” music reference…Hope to see more teams Roll the Bones on the youth. I think there is a push for youth development that is stronger now than in years past… Patience…In Earnie we trust!

  2. In my haste to say that I love this, I posted a comment on the wrong article.
    With a hat-tip to Jim Collins, this is another early (very early) piece of evidence that the Union is willing to patiently, consistently keep turning the fly-wheel.
    Bob Dylan’s nasal growl was instantly in my mind, even though it’s out of context:
    “There’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend.”
    Keep turning the flywheel…

    • #TrustTheProcess
      (*sits patiently waiting for blow-back on that one*)

      • There is constant tension on this for passionate fans who both love the beautiful game and want to see their team play it well and lift the cup now.
        I have to remind myself that this tension is good… something to be managed; not necessarily something that can or should be eliminated.

      • We are not a patient society. Much to our detriment, unfortunately.

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