Every Major League Soccer team goes through its fair share of cycles. After former Columbus Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter left Black & Gold to coach the U.S. Men’s National Team, the Crew began a new cycle. It included new ownership after a tumultuous year of fighting to save the team, a new head coach in Caleb Porter and changes to the Columbus roster.
In 2019, arguably the biggest roster move the Crew made early in this cycle was signing goalkeeper Eloy Room. Two and a half years, and two trophies, into his time with the Black & Gold, Room still believes in Columbus.
“I still believe in the project,” said Room last week on a virtual call with the media from the team’s preseason in Ft. Lauderdale. “Of course, we wanted to win a cup, but for me, it’s like also for the long term.”
After Columbus’ season ended earlier than expected last year, following a 2-0 victory again the Chicago Fire on MLS Decision Day that wasn’t enough for the team to make the MLS Cup playoffs, Room did what any player would do. He went home and contemplated his future. The native of Holland returned to Europe and spent time with his family. During that moment of respite, two things happened. The Crew worked on getting Room back and European teams pursued the goalkeeper’s services.
Black & Gold leadership made it known early in the offseason that they had their targets for re-signing current players. Room was in that group alongside teammates Pedro Santos and Milton Valenzuela. Room was the first of that group to have his new deal announced.
“I like the city, I like the people I work with, so it was not a hard choice for me,” said Room. “Also, I had some options in Europe, to go back home there, but for me, it’s not time to go back to Europe yet. I’m glad I’m staying here for more years in Columbus.”
In the two and a half years since his signing with the club, after a standout performance in the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup with Curaçao, Room has played 61 MLS matches for Columbus. During his time on the pitch, Room has dazzled with big saves.
On Nov. 4, 2020, his double-stop against Orlando City SC won him the MLS Save of the Year. Just 36 days later, he earned a clean sheet against the Seattle Sounders in the 2020 MLS Cup Final. On Sept. 18, 2021, Room made two late saves on an injury he sustained in the match. Without allowable substitutes, Room kept the Crewe in the playoff hunt, earning a draw for the Black & Gold.
Those moments now continue through at least 2023. Added onto his responsibilities is also helping the next cycle of Columbus goalkeepers.
Earlier this month, the Black & Gold selected collegiate goalkeeper Patrick Schulte out of St. Louis University. Schulte isn’t intended to compete for a starting position against Room, but to learn from the Crew’s leader in goal. This is something Room’s experienced in his own career, and he knows how Schulte is feeling.
“When I look back at my time, I was a little impatient. I wanted to play. I wanted to be the first goalie,” said Room. “Sometimes that’s hard for a soccer player to be patient and wait for your chance. As a goalkeeper, it's different though. There’s only one spot. And you have to be patient for your chance.”
Patience for Schulte will go a long way in his development. Also, match minutes, which he will likely get in droves at Crew 2 of the MLS Next Pro league, will help assist how he comes along. Although Schulte won’t likely see his chance with the senior team in 2022, his professional bank of experience is getting filled as the Crew train in Ft. Lauderdale. When preseason ends, that shifts to first team practice, where Schulte will watch Room in action.
The Black & Gold’s first-team goalkeeper is a good person to learn from too. In two and a half seasons, Room has 163 saves, averaging 2.76 per match in 2021 behind an injury-riddled backline.
That backline received much-needed assistance with the signing of center back Miloš Degenek this week. With the Australian defender from Serbia’s Red Star Belgrade now in the fold, Room can work towards seeing Porter’s project reach the pinnacle once again.
Until that’s done, Room isn’t ready to go home.