Photo by Mississippi Brilla FC
Born in Spain, Royo played for fourth-division side AD Villaviciosa de Odón before moving to England with his family at 16 years old. While there, his pursuit to play at the professional level saw him earn a trial with English club Bolton Wanderers. However, his stint there ended without an offer, and Royo made his way north to Scotland, where he signed a contract with semi-professional side Gretna FC 2008. He was finally a pro playing the sport he loved, but Royo wanted more.
Royo wanted higher education, knowing that a professional soccer career was not going to last forever. He researched opportunities, and discovered that Spanish club Atletico Madrid was helping Spanish players find scholarships to universities in the United States.
“I had to do some kind of tryouts, and I was actually the first one they sent over to the States,” Royo said.
“It was always my dream to become a professional soccer player, but in Europe, it comes down to the point where you have to choose between wanting that or your education," Royo said. "You can be a professional soccer player or you go for your studies, so when I realized at the age of 21 that the money that I was making wasn’t the best. … I realized soccer wasn’t going to last forever. I had to find a way, so I saw Atleti were offering these tryouts, and soccer in the United States was growing up and colleges actually offer you the chance to get an education and play soccer to expose yourself for a professional club to play after your four years.”
Because Royo had signed a contract for Gretna FC 2008, the attacking midfielder was ineligible to compete in the NCAA. Due to that restriction, he chose to attend the University of Northwestern Ohio, which competes in the NAIA. Royo hit the ground running, scoring nine goals and providing four assists in his first season. He then scored 16 goals and assisted 10 others in his second season. While Royo was shining on the field, he knew he had to gain even more exposure if he wanted to play at the next level in the U.S.
“I heard about it in my second year at university – the PDL – and how most of the soccer players who are DI, DII, DIII, NAIA, they play in this league to try and show what they can do for a professional team, and I was really interested in this,” Royo said. “Luckily, last year, [Brilla FC Head Coach] Mark McKeever contacted me and a few guys from my university and was really interested in me coming here to Mississippi Brilla and being a part of the program.
“[Last season] we didn’t make it as far as we wanted to, but everything was so professional, the facilities were really good and I think that it helped me a lot coming into my senior season to do well.”
After scoring seven goals, providing four assists, leading Brilla FC to a Mid South Division title and earning All-PDL Southern Conference Team and All-League Team honors, Royo went on to enjoy his best season for Northwestern Ohio. The midfielder recorded 17 goals and 10 assists in 19 appearances. His strong year saw him earn a combine invite to showcase his skills in front of MLS teams.
“Through that, I was on the list for the [MLS] draft, but I wasn’t expecting to be drafted because NAIA players don’t get as much recognition as divisions or other teams,” Royo said. “But I was lucky enough to be with those guys, and it was a great experience.”
Despite Royo not being selected in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft, he did have another chance to see his pro dream become a reality. A few USL teams reached out to Royo about trying out for their teams, and the attacking midfielder decided to train and trial with USL’s Rochester Rhinos. Royo was enjoying his time with the club and thought he was doing well, but he suffered an injury during his stint and was not offered a deal.
Now healthy, Royo is back with Brilla FC, wanting to return to a high level so he can earn a pro contract he has traveled far and wide to attain.
“It’s just another thing to learn from,” Royo said. “It was a good experience to be involved with those guys [the Rhinos]. They just won the USL the prior season, and being there and knowing I have the level to play there. I didn’t feel they were above me.
“The PDL really helped me with that. The NAIA has really good universities, but playing in the PDL against good teams every week, that showed me that I could do it.”