The 2017 season was quite the journey for defender Matt Real, one that began with setbacks during the preseason but with hard work and persistence, ended with great accomplishments.
The left back’s year began on January 17 when he signed with the club surrounded by his family along with Bethlehem Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke, Philadelphia Union Sporting Director Earnie Stewart and Union head coach Jim Curtin. After showing tremendous promise in a pair of appearances with Steel FC in 2016, Real joined the club as a 17-year-old professional.
Real’s professional journey began at the Philadelphia Union Academy and continued the first months of the season as the club trained tirelessly for the approaching campaign. After appearing in a pair of preseason matches, Real’s momentum was stopped due to an injury.
The injury forced the Drexel Hill, PA, native to miss the club’s first six matches of the season but provided Real a chance to work on his mentality. Real made his first start on one of the biggest stages of the season, playing left back on the road at Toronto FC II’s match at BMO Field. In his 2017 debut, he completed over 70 percent of his passes and led the team with five interceptions.
After four starts with Steel FC, Real received international attention as he was called up by the United States U18 squad for the Lisbon International Tournament in Portugal. After competing against Japan, Norway, and the hosts, he returned for the club’s summer push for the playoffs.
As the battle for the USL Cup postseason got closer and closer, Real continued to progress in each match. After helping the defense to key results at Orlando and Louisville, Real took the next step with his first professional assist against Tampa Bay on Sept. 27.
Real’s strong play once again earned a call-up with the U.S. in the squad’s final U18 camp for the group, which saw the 18-year-old travel to Spain for matches against Belgium and Russia. With a pair of starts with the national team in his pocket, Real’s season capped off on a high note against Saint Louis FC. Trailing a goal in the regular season finale, Real found the equalizer less than a minute after the visitor’s scored. Winning the ball back from a Saint Louis defender, Real dribbled to the edge of the 18-yard-box and beat the keeper at the near post for his first professional goal.
Real notched the start at left back in Steel FC’s first USL Cup Playoff match at eventual champion Louisville City FC. Overall, Real started 18 matches with Steel FC, playing over 1,600 minutes. Defensively, Real finished in the top-five with 48 clearances, 43 interceptions, 33 tackles and eight blocked shots.