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SSFC Spotlight: Roman Celentano developing in MLS

The rookie goalkeeper grabbed the starting role at FC Cincinnati.

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FC CIncinnati v New York Red Bulls Photo by Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images

Sometimes players receive a single opportunity to stake a claim in the starting lineup, never knowing if another chance will arrive. This can happen at any point in a career, even in the first few months. Roman Celentano answered the call shortly after entering the professional game. The 21-year-old FC Cincinnati goalkeeper was forced to take the reins in April and has yet to surrender his spot in the lineup, helping a perennially struggling organization enter the Major League Soccer playoff hunt.

Celentano was born in Naperville, Illinois and played with the prestigious Chicago Sockers youth program, topping the Mid-American Conference and reaching the national quarterfinals in the now-defunct Development Academy league. Despite being undersized until a late growth spurt, he went on several training stints in Europe, becoming “obsessed with the craft“ of goalkeeping. Working with a ferocious intensity to improve, Sporting Lisbon brought him in for a look in 2016.

Celentano, a two-star recruit, matriculated to Indiana and was expected to be a long-term prospect. However, he almost immediately stepped into the starting role and enjoyed a successful three-year career, leading the Hoosiers to a national runner-up finish in 2020 and allowing a mere 33 goals in 52 appearances. His accolades include multiple Big Ten championships, Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year twice, first-team All-Big-Ten, second-team All-American, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Tournament, and NCAA Defensive Most Outstanding Player. Everybody Soccer listed him as the top undergraduate goalkeeper in the NCAA, praising his strong hands and confidence when dealing with crosses.

Celentano opted to forego his senior season and turned professional, signing a Generation Adidas contract with Major League Soccer. FC Cincinnati selected him with the second overall pick in the 2022 SuperDraft, joining a club with “the worst shot-stopping goalkeepers” in the league. “[Celentano] fills an area of need,” said manager Pat Noonan. “He provides good depth. He’s going to come in with good character (and good upside)… We’ve seen and heard a lot about him in the previous months, and he’s going to be a nice piece to this team.”

Cincinnati initially sent him to the reserves in the newly-formed MLS Next Pro league. He made two appearances before returning to the first-team squad. After a single match on the bench came his massive opportunity following an injury to starter Alec Kann, performing well in a 2-1 loss to Los Angeles FC and “saving everything [there was] a chance at saving.”

Since taking over the number one spot, Celentano has made 21 appearances, starting in every league match. MLS named him to the Team of the Week for Weeks 8 and 10, the latter after registering consecutive shutouts against Toronto FC and Minnesota United. Much like his college career, he took on an important role earlier than expected and is improving with each passing week.

“I really wasn’t expecting much from the first year,” Celentano shared with Soccer By Ives. “I was just hoping to get some [reserve] games and just work my way into the team and just get used to the environment and everything… I just tried my best to be ready… I’m more confident but it’s like, alright, now I’m in the team, but now I want to reach higher… You always want to keep pushing, keep striving for the next level.”

With Celentano at goalkeeper, the goals allowed numbers have dropped precipitously, playing a major role in the club’s success. Since joining MLS in 2019, FC Cincinnati has finished in last in three consecutive seasons. This year, the Orange and Blue are at eighth place in the Eastern Conference, a mere single point outside of playoff qualification with seven matches remaining.

Standing at 6’1”, Celentano is one of the best shot-stoppers in MLS and a constant fixture in the weight room. Everybody Soccer describes him as “reminiscent of early goalkeepers in how he uses his size to shut down chances and make the position look surprisingly simple at times.” Cincinnati plays a high-pressing system which can place him on an island, forcing him to frequently play the hero against an onrushing opponent. As is common for inexperienced professionals, his manager notes “decision making” as an area for improvement but lauds his “good composure.” Corner kicks are also an issue, having surrendered several goals from dead ball opportunities.

Cincinnati Soccer Talk points to distribution as a spot for development, but his passing has improved over the season. Cincinnati avoids possession, thus most of his passes are long balls. However, his acrobatic shot-stopping continues to stand out and could be what drives him to the next level, routinely pulling out gravity-defying dives and point-blank denials. There is also a fearless directness when handling lofted crosses, being unafraid to challenge opposing attackers.

As is continually written, goalkeepers can wait years for the chance to earn playing time. Through fate, Celentano received the opportunity to play with the first team and put in several impressive performances, cementing himself as the number one. If his ascent continues in Cincinnati, he could eventually enter into the USMNT picture, beginning with a potential January Camp call-up following the upcoming World Cup.