WILLEMSTAD, Curacao — There is no doubt that visitors to Curacao are finding it tough to get past their last line of the defense: national team goalkeeper Eloy Room.
Room has been critical for Curacao as the island has become a League A and Gold Cup regular in half a decade. Now, the dream of ranking among the region’s giants can be realized with a win against Costa Rica that would put Curacao in the final four of the Concacaf Nations League.
Room didn’t always know he’d be protecting Curacao’s net.
Born in the Netherlands to a father from Curacao and a mother from the Netherlands, Room rose through the ranks with the Dutch youth teams. Yet, the Caribbean island was always present in his life.
“I told him a lot about Curacao,” Room’s father Lesley said this week as he watched his son train at Ergilio Hato Stadium. “When he joined the national team, he really liked it.
“He said, ‘This is my country.’”
The goalkeeper said he felt his identity growing up was 50-50 between the Dutch and Curacao portions, but when former Curacao manager (and Dutch football legend) Patrick Kluivert approached him to join the Curacao team, he felt good about the project.
“When Patrick Kluivert contacted me with the plan, I was excited about it,” Room said. “I was directly involved. I was one of the first players to make the decision because it’s a tough decision.”
The choice was complicated in part because Room still felt the potential to suit up for the Oranje was on the table. Now, he feels he made the right call.
“Every guy in Holland wants to play for the Dutch team. I was close to being there, but now I’m proud to be part of this journey,” Room said.
“For me it was really important if you can do something (to give) back for the island. This is a strong island, and the soccer especially was unknown,” he continued.
“I want to show the world that we have really good potential and really good players. I think we’ve showed that in the past Gold Cup already and we want to show it now in the Nations League.”
You certainly can’t question Room’s commitment. The 30-year-old used to make long commutes across the Atlantic for each FIFA date, traveling from Arnhem, where he played with Vitesse, or Eindhoven after moving to PSV. Even as he kept getting the nod in goal from Curacao manager Remko Bicentini, his playing time started to dwindle with PSV managers preferring other players as their No. 1.
Standout Gold Cup performances in 2017 put him on MLS teams’ radar, and he signed with Columbus Crew SC after the 2019 tournament.
The numbers don’t lie. During 2019, Curacao has allowed multiple goals in just one of its 10 matches heading into Thursday’s finale. Room has three clean sheets to his name in that spell.
“He brings so much confidence at the back. He’s a really, really good goalkeeper,” midfielder Leandro Bacuna said. “He never had a big chance in Holland, and I think he truly deserved it. Now he’s doing very well in MLS.”
Soon enough, Room will turn his focus toward the next club season in the United States. But right now, he’s locked in on the task at hand.
In Curacao, however, that doesn’t mean taking things in an overly serious manner. The team moves around the island in a retrofitted school bus painted with the blue and yellow colors of the flag and blasting music. “It’s like a party bus!” Room said with a smile.
In between training sessions, the team can often be seen dancing, doing meet-and-greets with fans, and participating in competitions like trying to have every player on the squad head the ball before it’s spiked in a trash can.
“I compare it to, when you’re at your (club) team, it’s your business. It’s work,” he said. “You come there, you do your work, you go home. Here it’s a family.”
The family is getting together to follow the dream for the final time this year, but they’re hoping to achieve their goals and set up an even more boisterous 2020.