Matthew Real: Journey of a Philadelphia Union Homegrown


The newest member of Bethlehem Steel F.C. sits down to discuss rising through the academy, developing as a defender and the boyhood dream of playing professionally for his hometown club.

The Philadelphia Union have stood firm in their belief that young, local talent is the way of the future for growing the game of soccer in the United States. While the signing of promising academy graduates has been a recurring theme for Earnie Stewart’s franchise, rarely do we see stories the likes of Matthew Real in the professional game today.

An aspiration that began at age nine, the talented left back has taken a crucial step in fulfilling his ultimate goal of one day playing for the club that has guided him in his journey to the professional level. In speaking with the new Steel F.C. defender, it became very clear that Real’s ambition to succeed in Philadelphia has always been the driving force behind his game.

PC: So what was going through your mind on Tuesday when you got called to go over to Talen Energy Stadium? 

MR: I was really excited to get started because I had found out a couple weeks ago at a meeting that they were interested in signing me. My agent worked the things out that we wanted and everything thankfully went through. And yesterday when I got the call to go over to Talen Energy, I was really excited to get started. I was more anxious for the season to start. All the photos and stuff is really cool, but for me nothing means anything until I prove it out on the field.

PC: As a boy growing up in the area, I’m sure the prospect of Philadelphia finally getting a professional soccer team was just as exciting for you as it was for any fan of the game. Did it ever occur to you in your time with the Union Juniors and the academy that your first professional deal would be with your hometown club?

MLS: Orlando City SC at Philadelphia Union
MLS: Orlando City SC at Philadelphia Union /

MR: It was always a dream of mine but I never honestly thought it would happen. I was always so confident in myself that hopefully one day it could happen. But until a couple of years ago I realized “man, I can really make this dream possible”. So I started focusing more towards soccer than my work at school.

When I was on trips, I wouldn’t really work on my schoolwork and I would just focus on completely putting all my time and energy and hard work into that one craft so I could just develop it and get to the best of my potential and hopefully sign like I did yesterday. I’m just really happy to be playing, especially for my hometown because all my family is here and it’s really good to be playing for this city after everything that it’s done for me.

PC: You went through the entire process that Earnie Stewart has put forward here in Philadelphia in regards to assessing young talent and having them work up the ranks of the Union organization much like your former academy teammates Derrick Jones, Auston Trusty and Yosef Samuel. From your perspective, how has Stewart’s arrival changed the landscape of young men like yourself getting opportunities at the professional level?

MR: For me, I knew Earnie was a big believer in signing youth players because of the work he did in Holland. I was interested in the work he did and as soon as he came here I saw that Derrick got signed right away from the academy to the first team and then Trusty was next. Just him being

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Philadelphia Union
MLS: New York Red Bulls at Philadelphia Union /

here for a couple of months, he had already signed two players, and then Yosef came after that. So I knew it was a strong philosophy of his and by him coming here it would give me an even better chance of going professional.

Before he was even here, we didn’t really have any homegrown players. There was Zach Pfeffer and Jimmy McLaughlin but they really didn’t get much time with the first team. And I think, especially with Bethlehem Steel now, it gives the academy, the first team and Steel more leeway to sign youth players. A lot of the time, the jump from the academy to the first team is a hard jump to make, so that’s why it’s good to have the middle team like Bethlehem Steel there and try to develop players a little more before taking the step up to the first team.

PC: Having followed your time in the United States youth system, there’s no denying your skill at the left back position. Are there any players in particular you try to model your game after or facets of their style of play that you try to adapt in your game?

MLS: MLS All Star Game-MLS All Stars vs Bayern Munich
MLS: MLS All Star Game-MLS All Stars vs Bayern Munich /

MR: Ever since I was young, I’ve always looked up to Marcelo and David Alaba. With Marcelo, being that I’m Brazilian as well, I always watched his style of play. I like how both of them have good engine in getting forward and that’s something I like to implement in my game as well.

That’s one of my strongest aspects is my engine to get forward down the line and that’s what those two guys bring to the table in their game. Me specifically, I still think I need a lot of work in my defensive part of the game, but I definitely tried to model my game after those two growing up.

PC: It’s a very good sign when a player is able to know and understand what can be improved and I feel that Bethlehem Steel is the perfect scenario for you because you’ll have a solid environment to work at those parts of your game. I imagine once you got the call for a professional deal, forgoing your commitment to Wake Forest was a pretty easy decision because you now have that freedom and more importantly time to develop those aspects and become a well rounded defensive threat.

MR: Exactly because when I was committed to Wake Forest and going on trips, at the same time before one of my games my mind would be on “oh, I’ve gotta do my schoolwork after the game”. It would kind of distract me from seeing the little things in my game that I need to work on and become better at so I can take the next step. So it’s really good to finally sign the contract with my hometown.

PC: Another young fullback in this organization, Keegan Rosenberry, is pushing for a spot on the US Men’s National team. Being a consistent presence in the youth squads of United States soccer, do you view this step up to Bethlehem Steel as a viable platform to showcase your talent and grab the attention of Bruce Arena’s camp?

MR: No doubt. Something I’ve learned ever since growing up in the academy system is that no matter where you play or who you’re playing against, there’s always someone watching. A great story is one of my academy friends, Auston Trusty, he was here with the U16 team then the U18’s and he was always one of our good players. And then one day he just randomly got a call a couple months before the U17 World Cup to go to a camp.

He showed up and proved himself that he belonged there with one call up and he made the World Cup roster within a month before the tournament took place. After that moment, he’s been on the national team for U17’s, U19’s, and now the U20’s where he’s at now. Basically, you have to showcase your talent no matter where you’re playing.

For me of course, I’ll hopefully get that call up to the national team by playing through the USL with Steel and then the first team. And I think Auston and Derrick Jones are on the same path as well, but I’m very excited and looking forward to proving myself.

PC: Who are you most excited to play alongside this season at Steel, whether they be former academy teammates or new faces?

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MR: I’ve gotten to play with all the guys and they’re all really great players. I’m just really excited to be part of this team and help them get as many wins as we can. There’s no one specific player I’m looking forward to playing with because I’m looking forward to playing on the team as a team and getting a lot of wins this upcoming season.

PC: Great team answer. Spoken like a true professional. Last question; what would it mean to you as a player, as someone who grew up here, to step out on that pitch in Chester, PA and represent the Union first team in front of the thousands of friends, family members and fans who’ve witnessed, commended and motivated you throughout your soccer journey in Philadelphia?

MR: It means everything to me. Ever since I was nine years old, making the Philadelphia Union was always my main goal, I was always pushing for that. Even before they had an academy system, I was always thinking “hopefully I can play for the Philadelphia Union first team”. And to see that, if it actually happened, to see all my hard work pay off, it would just mean so much to me and definitely fulfill the dream that I’ve had since I was a young boy.

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The road to becoming a professional soccer player is not an easy one. It’s a long and grueling journey who’s spoils are reserved for the few who are willing to commit themselves entirely to the game as a whole. Matthew Real has fully committed to bettering himself as a player and the fruits of his labor have produced a professional contract in an organization that has molded and nurtured him on and off the field.

Without the external burdens that hinder the growth of young athletes, the 17-year old defender has all the tools to elevate his game further and achieve the childhood dream of becoming a Philadelphia Union star. Time will tell where Real’s journey will take him, but at least he now has the time to spare and more importantly, to grow.