Seeing children realize their dreams, no matter what the obstacles, is the kind of thing that makes parenting so rewarding. Pablo and Christen Real got to revel in that moment this past Tuesday morning, as their son, Matthew signed his first professional contract with Bethlehem Steel FC.
“It’s everything to us because this is his dream and something he’s wanted for so long,” Christen Real said. “To see your child actually make it this far and achieve his dream is amazing.”
The 17-year-old’s journey to this moment can be traced back to Matt as an eight year old. When Major League Soccer announced Philadelphia would be getting a team, the dream to play for what was then called simply, ‘Philadelphia 2010’, began. A few months later, Matt was asked to play for the Union Juniors and the trip down the path to a career in professional soccer for Matthew and his family was underway.
As Real grew on and off the field, his talent provided him with a special opportunity that landed him inside the Philadelphia Union Academy when it began in the fall of 2013. Real’s parents said that the support that the Academy system provided led to even more changes that continue to make them proud.
“He grew not only as a player but as a man and we are so blessed that he got that opportunity,” Pablo Real said. “He was there at the right time, in the right place with great people.”
During his time inside the Union Academy, Real’s game continued to grow and catch the eyes of numerous coaches including Bethlehem Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke.
“Seeing a guy that Jim Curtin and I worked with when he was only nine is really special, because he embodies what the whole project and pyramid is all about and it shows that it is working,” Burke said. “It takes a long time for things to get off the ground sometime, but all of Matt’s hard work to fight his way up that ladder is a great sign of things to come.”
During his first year at the Academy, Real made 26 appearances for the U14 team and followed it up with 19 appearances with the U16 squad the following year. Over the past two years, he made nearly 30 games for the U-18 team and scored his first goal this season. Real has also seen time with the U.S. U18 team, traveling to tournaments in Mexico, Argentina and Czech Republic.
Throughout the whole process, Real still stuck to his dream of playing for his hometown club. After a pair of appearances with Steel FC last season, Real became convinced that his next step would be inside the system he has known most of his life, passing up a full ride to collegiate powerhouse Wake Forest in the process.
“I was really excited when I found out I was joining the Steel, for the reason that this is my hometown and I always wanted to be a part of this organization,” Real said. “The club gave me this opportunity to sign my first contract here and I’m excited. I will always want to give back to them for giving me this amazing chance.”
For his parents, their son’s decision to stay with the team and the environment that he has grown up in is one that they are proud to see.
“We are actually glad to see him stay close to home because of the environment that he has around him already whether it’s his friends or the great staff from Bethlehem Steel FC and Philadelphia Union,” Pablo said.
“His work ethic has grown every year in the Academy and he strives harder and harder and I honestly think it’s because he had the right staff around him,” Christen added. “Genuinely good point that care about him and want to see him succeed in many different areas. Thanks to the system the Union have provided we’ve seen Matt grow from a little nine-year-old to a man that as a parent, you have to be proud of. It’s such a dream for him to begin his professional career where you started and I think that it’s every athlete’s dream to play for their hometown and thankfully he has that chance down the road.”
While Matt is beginning the next step in his life, one as a professional with Bethlehem Steel FC, his father believes there is still more for Matt to work on as he looks to pursue his next dream of playing at Talen Energy Stadium for the first team.
“He still has a lot to learn but I think with his group working with him and helping him that he will achieve it. This journey wasn’t easy and nothing in life is easy but sometimes you have to take a risk to see what’s on the other side. I’m proud of what he has accomplished so far and can’t wait to see what comes next.”