Romney photo courtesy Nashville SC.
Dave Romney is a California kid. A native of Irvine, he traveled North to play his college soccer at the University of San Francisco. After four years with the Dons, he parlayed a USL contract with Los Angeles Galaxy II into a Major League soccer career just 30 miles from his hometown*.
Playing for the Galaxy’s senior team provided him the opportunity to share the field and a locker room with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Steven Gerrard, and multiple brothers Dos Santos – major international names. It may have been exactly that tendency for the Galaxy to aim for being Galácticos that gave Romney the desire to seek greener pastures.
With a seemingly consistent desire for the next big name in the defensive unit to go along with the high-profile attacking signings, the Galaxy didn’t seem to be interested in a breakthrough for their Los Angeles native.
“All things being equal, I think he would have preferred to stay in Southern California,” said Kevin Baxter, who covers the Galaxy for the Los Angeles Times. “That’s where he’s from, it’s where his family is, and he’s played his whole life with the Galaxy. But he was never going to play regularly for [head coach] Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Dennis te Kloese [LA Galaxy’s technical director] knew that too, and went to Dave midway through the summer and asked him where he’d like to go. Apparently Nashville came up in that conversation.
“For whatever reason, Dave continually had to prove himself. He got some playing time under Bruce Arena but when Arena left, he started only sparingly under Curt Onalfo at the start of 2017. There were some injuries that led to playing time and that continued when Sigi Schmid replaced Onalfo. Then he was back on the bench for Sigi at the start of 2018. He returned to the starting lineup in late spring when the team changed formations and with Romney on the field the team went on a long unbeaten streak. Then, in 2019, Schelotto came in and everything started all over again. He brought in Giancarlo Gonzalez and Diego Polenta, two guys he pursued heavily, and even though they didn’t play well all the time Schelotto stuck with them. They were his guys. Romney was not. I see all these things as personal choices of the different coaching staffs and not as a reflection of Dave’s play. I don’t know what the coaches saw – or didn’t see – in him. But he’s made the team better when given the chance.”
The perceived lack of a meritocracy may ease Nashville SC fans’ fears that a player who couldn’t get time on a weak Galaxy defense becomes the first back-four signing of the MLS expansion franchise. That te Kloese made the move – earning the Galaxy $225,000 in allocation money, with a potential for $50,000 more if Romney meets certain performance benchmarks – speaks to his desire to look out for the player, and provide Romney the opportunity to blossom with a fresh start.
“I really think Dennis te Kloese was thinking of Dave and not the team,” Baxter said. “The team would be better with Dave on the roster. Even if he didn’t play he’s an American (no foreign roster spot) who can play four positions well and he has a reasonable salary. He’s also a good dressing room guy. But Dennis knew he wanted to start. Dave has worked hard and hasn’t complained publically. I think Dennis wanted to reward him. Bruce Arena used to do the same thing. When guys got really good and he couldn’t afford them or they were about to lose playing time for some reason, Bruce would ask them where they wanted to go and then try to trade them there.”
In Romney, Nashville has a high-upside player. Romney also comes at a decent wage point – $102,000 compensation with the Galaxy this Summer – and beyond his abilities in the locker room and on the pitch, he’s someone who wants to be in Nashville. He potentially has a point to prove about being left in the lurch by the Galaxy’s technical staff all-too often, as well.
At 26 years old, Romney has several years left in his legs. He’s capable of playing as a left back (and even flips to the right at times), but may have his most natural position in the heart of the backline. Some stability in that regard may serve him well.
“Dave can – and has — played all four positions on the back line and he can play them all well,” Baxter explained. “As an outside back he has also shown the ability to get up and down the field almost like a winger, although he doesn’t score a lot of goals.
“He has repeatedly expressed a desire to be given one position at the start of the season and then be allowed the chance to really go after it from that one spot. Unfortunately [from that perspective], I think Dave’s greatest strength is his versatility and his ability to step into any position at a moment’s notice and thrive. Having said all that, I believe he has played best at center back when paired with Daniel Steres.”
Romney’s future position-mates are still to be unearthed: while NSC has signed multiple midfielders and forwards, he’s the lone back-five player in the fold for the club’s roster to date. He’ll be waiting along with the rest of us to find out who may be lining up next to him.
What Nashville fans can look forward to, though, is exactly the type of hard-working, defensively-sound player they’ve come accustomed to seeing in the pre-MLS days with Nashville Soccer Club. With Romney patrolling the backline behind a strong defensive midfield group, the first piece of groundwork has been laid for an elite defense.
*I should be commended for my restraint in not talking about the classic California “which highways would he take to get from Irvine to Carson” trope here. Thank you for your commendation.