Get To Know: Rocco Romeo
Welcome back to a series that lets us get to know the human behind the footballer. After speaking with Triston Henry last month, we’re proud to release a get to know segment on Vancouver FC defender Rocco Romeo.
How I met Rocco Romeo
The irony behind this introduction is that, before this interview, I’d never met Rocco Romeo. I knew who he was, don’t get me wrong, but we never had a conversation outside of social media.
Rocco started his Canadian Premier League journey at the end of July 2021 when he was loaned from Toronto FC to Valour FC. Then, when his contract was over with his hometown club, he came back to Winnipeg for the 2022 season. At the beginning of this year, CPL newcomer, Vancouver FC announced the signing of their new defensive pillar, Rocco Romeo. On one side, there was a player with new colours, new challenges and new responsibilities and on the other side, every Canadian soccer fan was just happy to have this opportunity to keep following his growth.
When I thought of which player from which club I was going to sit down with to create these articles, it was obvious that it had to be Rocco for Vancouver FC. I couldn’t let the fact that I didn’t know him stop me because at the end of the day, am I not supposed to get to know them too ? As I listened to him answer my questions in all authenticity, I found myself surprised by his answers, his way of seeing life and his ease of opening up to me. In the middle of our conversation, I stopped Rocco to tell him how amazed I was at everything I was learning about him. If this whole interview made me excited for my next sit down with him, whenever it comes, it was also a sweet reminder to never judge a book by its cover.
The 20 completely random questions
1. What made you fall in love with football ?
I was a kid, I was three years old, and I was a very charismatic type of person: very energetic, always wanting to be outside. It was actually my Godfather who just gave me a soccer ball when I was a kid and then I just immediately fell in love with, you know, kickin’ it, running around, chasing it. I think that’s when I really found my first love in soccer.
2. In the CPL you’re known as a center back, did you play anywhere else when you were younger ?
Before we switched to eleven-vs-eleven, I used to play midfielder actually. I was always pretty comfortable on the ball so I was good in those little areas but when we made the switch to eleven-vs-eleven, my coach just threw me at the back. It made sense because I was one of the tallest kids growing up and obviously winning aerial battles is very important as a defender – I do have an advantage over quite a few people.
3. What’s the career highlight you’re most proud of so far ?
I think there are two moments that I still think about, although as a person I’m generally never satisfied. I always think that my work is never enough and that there’s always room for improvement, and as soon as I get a taste of something that is closer to my dream, I want more of it and I want to work harder to reach it.
However, one of the moments was scoring in our World Cup qualifiers for Under-17’s. It was in Panama, and I scored in the opening game, so it was a really nice moment to have but also a pretty bad moment because I ended up being sent off that game.
The other moment was when I was playing overseas in Copenhagen. I got sent on loan from Toronto FC to the Danish first division, but then I was coming back from injury and the head coach knew the assistant coach of a Super Liga team called FC Copenhagen; their team is known for playing in the Champions League and the Europa League. So at the time, I got an opportunity to go train with their first team and I actually played an exhibition game against another Swedish Super Liga team. I think I was 18 at the time and then it was an exhibition game, right? So I’m in this big stadium with over 20,000 people maybe and it was just friendly you know, but it was my little taste of a big stadium atmosphere. You get that vision of what it’s like as a kid so when I got that little taste I was like, yeah this is where I want to be one day. Those are the two moments that I really carried with me throughout my career so far.
4. You can sign in your actual team a player you’ve already played with. Tell me who it is, when you shared the pitch together and why he is your choice.
To be fair, I feel like the general basic answer would be obvious like Alphonso Davies or Jonathan David. I think those two guys really stepped up big time over the past couple of years; they really took that big jump on the clubs’ biggest stage but also on the world’s biggest stage as well. I met them when we were very young, when we were like 15-16 doing the introduction to the national team system. I went to World Cup qualifiers with Johnny for the Under-17s and Alphonso was at a few camps with us, and then obviously they pushed on to the first team very quickly. Either one of those two guys would obviously be a really good representation.
5. Do you have any rituals on game day?
I do, and it’s kind of funny. The typical stuff is just like having a pre-match meal, shower, and getting changed, whatever. The meal depends on my mood; usually it’s some sort of pasta that I make. Afterwards I’ll just relax and usually I’ll play worship music – which is Christian music – and that music helps me relax and focus. It kind of takes my thoughts away from the game a bit and just keeps me at peace. I get into the car, keep listening to the worship music, and then I’ll put on my headphones directly as soon as I get out of the car because I just want to keep that aura around me. I’ll go for my walk around the field and I’ll call both my parents on the field as well, that’s our ritual every time. As soon as I get back into the locker room the playlist switches right away to Lil Baby and it’s strictly Lil Baby. That’d be like my pre-game routine and then obviously I do my warm-up routine, my game prep routine, and then when I get onto the field I have a little routine as soon as I go out for the walk-out.
6. You’re playing a five-on-five and the team has to be made with players you shared the pitch with. You need to include a goalkeeper and yourself, who else are you calling up ?
Honestly, I would probably say… my goalkeeper would be Quentin Westberg. He was a keeper at TFC and kind of like a role model for me as well, he had a lot of experience and was a really cool guy. Obviously myself and my other center back partner would be Julian Dunn. He and I always played together growing up in the academy system all the way through to the first team so that would be my guy. I would probably pick Johnny because this guy is on fire, and then Mohammed Kudus. He’s a winger that plays for Ajax and I played against him when he used to play in Denmark. This guy is essentially ‘different gravy’. He had a pretty good World Cup as well and I know him and Johnny up top can take care of everything.
7. What qualities does a player need to be a good center back ?
I think the main thing really is just reading the game well. Understanding the position of where the person himself is, like reading the space around him but also reading the situation and space in front of him. Figuring out where the midfielder is supposed to be positioned and, depending on where the ball is on the field, has everyone shifted over. Always having this instinct of the worst situation possible, having this on edge mentality of thinking ‘what can happen in this situation’ because it makes you proactive in every situation. It all comes with experience, getting game time and being put in those shit situations early to understand how you’re going to adapt to it if it does happen.
I think, definitely today in football with the game becoming so modern, everyone is very technical, everyone wants to clear out of the back, so I think that for a defender to be good on the ball, comfortable, and confident are big qualities. You have to give your attackers and wingers the opportunity to score and you just have to do your job and keep the clean sheet.
8. How would your friends describe you?
I think my friends, outside of football, would describe me as a very loving, warm and charismatic person and, you know, I’m very positive, uplifting. I like to know how people genuinely are, how they’re doing. I’m just a very big-hearted person, I really care a lot about my friends and people that are in my circle. Some people say I’m funny, some people say I’m stupid or annoying, but that’s just me being, you know, the person that I am. I think that obviously my teammates, when they see me on the field and off the field, they see me as a warrior, a competitor, and someone who’s going to demand everything. I wouldn’t say something to someone that I wouldn’t go through myself essentially. They know I have certain standards and they know that – excuse my language – I’m not one to be fucked with and that I set a very high standard of excellence every day. Off the field, I have banter, we laugh around and they see a softer side.
9. What’s one thing that can instantly make your day better?
Honestly, I live a very peaceful and happy life so I can’t really think of one thing. This kind of ties into my faith, right? I’m a man of God, I follow Christ and I openly speak about my faith and religion to teammates, friends, family, and random people. I just believe that when you walk with God’s peace and you walk with His grace with you everyday and you openly express these things, you just find His peace in you always. Even in the midst of frustration or anxiety or stress, I always just turn back to Him. Whether it’s listening to worship music or reading my bible or praying for that matter – I always just end up coming back to center essentially and realizing that I’m fine, you know what I mean. I came to peace with a lot of things in my life and I’m just very thankful and blessed to have this peace that I have now.
10. Do you have any tattoos? Which one is your favorite and what’s the meaning behind it?
I have three. I have one on my wrist that says DMA and I’d probably say that one is my favorite one just because when I was a kid, I never really got customized soccer cleats so whenever I got a new pair of cleats, I would always just get a sharpie – and even to this day I still do it – and write DMA. It’s Domenic, Mary, Amanda, the members of my family. I just do that because anywhere I go, my family is always with me essentially – so I got this tattoo representing that.
Down my forearm, I have roman numerals of my family birth dates and on my inner forearm, I have prayer hands and a rosary which represent my faith and that was my first tattoo. All of them are meaningful.
11. I saw you have an interest in photography. Tell me how it started and why you like it.
I think it all started in high school, maybe. It was like when VSCO first came out. VSCO is just a platform to post pictures and there’s no liking system or commenting system; if people like it they can repost it through their own account but it’s a platform just to post pictures and express your creativity. And me, I just always loved taking pictures. I feel like if I’m in a moment, I want to save this moment so I just started taking pictures, doing edits on them on VSCO and just posting them there.
But as I got older, I was like…I really like film and film cameras. So I literally went on a trip to Paris this past November, bought a film camera, and that’s when I actually got into the whole film environment and then one day I was just like ok, why not start a film account ? So I have a film account on the side. It’s not really too known nor do I really publicize about it but yeah, I just use it to post little moments. For example, I went downtown Vancouver with some guys for the afternoon and we got some shopping done and got some food so I brought the film camera and I shot them just for fun. It’s more a hobby that brings that nostalgic feeling back.
12. According to you, what first impression do people have when they meet you?
It’s literally the first comment that I get if it’s someone that I haven’t seen in a while or a brand new person. But first impression, I think people think I’m very polite, well-spoken, and very articulate when I speak. I’m definitely educated in some form because I’m pretty knowledgeable in different fields whether it be in business, fashion, music, photography, or even architecture, housing, interior designing; I’ve got my knowledge in different areas. I also think that people notice my sense of fashion, like I’m really into style and they notice that I have nice sneakers or sweaters.
13. What’s the best advice a family member has given you ?
It’s probably from my mom and dad honestly. They always told my sister and I when we were growing up, ‘you guys are made for greatness’ – whether that be in athletics or academics or anything really, they would just say ‘don’t do something half-assed because you don’t want to turn around one day and have regrets’.
My parents always understood that soccer was the main priority for me so obviously with that happening, I wouldn’t be the strongest in school or get the greatest marks but they always told me to be great at what I do, to give 100% in there because you don’t want to turn around one day and be working a job that you don’t love. I think it was a big thing that they emphasized for my sister and I and yeah, just striving for greatness always.
13. What’s your favorite holiday and why ?
Christmas is my favorite. It’s the birth of Christ, first and foremost and I think just the time itself is so amazing. All your family comes together, obviously people celebrate Santa and presents. It’s a good time for everyone to come together and really reflect right before the new year. It’s kind of like preparing yourself for the new year essentially so you reflect and you say out loud what you want to accomplish for the new year. For me mainly it’s just spending time with family.
14. What’s your go-to karaoke song ?
Excuse Me Miss – Chris Brown. I have a top five favorite musical artists and I think that old Chris Brown is pretty standard and everyone knows of it or has heard it. So you know, people can sing along, clap their hands to it with a rhythm. It’s not too complicated, it’s easy and yeah, old Chris Brown…he’s fire!
15. You’re stuck on a desert island with someone and that person has to be a player that played for Vancouver FC. Who do you want to be stuck with and why ?
To be fair, I’d probably say Callum Irving. He and I were roommates for the trip in Portland and we got along so well. We’ve hung out outside the facility as well, just getting to know him a little bit, his story and his career. He’s a really good guy and honestly he’s so funny, like wow! He does it nonchalantly too, but he’s also very practical so I think that on a desert island we would actually have a decent set up and make it comfortable. We would survive… I think!
16. What do you look for in a friend ?
Honesty and respect. Those are two things that I live by and I think for someone who can just be blindly honest with you and just say it as it is is very important. Trust is also very important. If I were to call someone and ask ‘hey, can you do me this favor right now?’ – I would hope that they would just drop what they’re doing and just do it. I do have friends like that and they know that I would do the same for them or if something tragic would happen, I would fly back home right away.
17. What are you afraid of?
Nothing because of my faith and my belief in God. You shouldn’t live in fear when God’s on your side.
18. You’re given the opportunity to either go back to a moment in time or to see a moment in the future, what are you choosing and why ?
See the thing is, I don’t know what to choose because if I knew something in the future and it was something that I didn’t like, I would just try to figure out a way to try to change it and make it right but that’s not what it’s supposed to be. But I wouldn’t go back in the past because I have no regrets and wouldn’t change it. Maybe a glimpse of something in the future so I can be excited towards it but I wouldn’t try to overthink it.
19. Who is Rocco Romeo going to be once he’s done being a professional footballer ?
That’s a mystery. I hope one day, when my degree is finished in university and that I’ve made a lot of connections through different fields of my career, that it would give me some sort of direction into what I want to go into, whether it be business, marketing, management, or working with athletes or companies directly.
I know for sure that I’m going to be involved in sports. Where? I have no idea. But I know that God has a plan for me and I hope to have a long-lasting career and a career that allows me to achieve my dreams. I put all my trust and faith and praise and glory into Him so whatever’s meant to happen will happen. I’ll be happy and at peace with it.
20. Who inspires you?
My grandmother on my dad’s side. She’s a rock, one of the hardest working people I’ve ever seen. Someone who’s really gone through extremes of life and for her to raise my father and my aunt in those circumstances and situations and to come all this way to provide for them and to give them an opportunity really is very inspirational. My dad also is a big role model for me in that sense of, you know, coming from very little and basically creating a very comfortable life for his family but even for our family’s families. I think that relentless mentality of trying to be great and never being satisfied in certain situations because life can make a whole 180 on you at any time is admirable. In a way, I think it’s important to be prepared for any situation but also to accept them because, you know, it’s life; things will happen and it’s just a matter of how you’re going to respond to them. I think that my grandmother and my father do an excellent job in that aspect. Even my mom to an extent as well, with how much she cares and loves and how supportive she is as well.
Bonus question: What’s your definition of happiness ?
Having peace. I think there are different forms of happiness whether it be scoring a goal, winning a game, or getting recognition for something – it’s a temporary happiness, a temporary feeling. But I think having peace in your life daily and knowing where that peace comes from, it’s so fantastic. If I could give someone just like five seconds to see how peaceful God has been in my life and my journey, I think they would be obsessed with it because it’s so great. For me, the definition of my happiness is to have peace, clarity and wisdom.
Header Image Credit: Beau Chevalier / Vancouver FC