Adam (left) and David Najem after their first professional game on opposite sides in June, 2017| Photo courtesy Ben Solomon / New York Red Bulls II
The road to becoming a professional athlete can be hard in any sport, but the stories of siblings who have reached the professional ranks either in the same sport or in different disciplines are among the more enjoyable. The WNBA Draft on Thursday night provided the latest example, with the New York Liberty’s first-round selection – Kia Nurse of the University of Connecticut – joining her older brother Darnell Nurse of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers in the professional ranks.
In honor of this past Tuesday’s National Siblings Day, here’s a look at five sets of brothers who have featured in the USL over recent seasons.
Daniel Gonzalez | Photo courtesy Steven Christy / OKC Energy FC
Miguel Gonzalez | Photo courtesy Steven Christy / OKC Energy FC
Both Miguel and Daniel Gonzalez broke into the USL in the 2015 season after featuring alongside one another in the Premier Development League the prior season. Miguel signed for Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, and Daniel joined OKC Energy FC.
Miguel quickly established himself as one of the Switchbacks’ key players in the club’s inaugural season, recording 11 goals in 28 games to lead Colorado Springs to the playoffs in its first year as he helped lead the attacking line for the club.
The two players were reunited in 2017, as Miguel joined Daniel in Oklahoma City, with Miguel announcing his arrival with a spectacular bicycle-kick goal against Sacramento Republic FC. Miguel is set to reach 100 league appearances this year, with 25 goals to his credit in the league.
Daniel, meanwhile, made almost 80 appearances for Energy FC over three seasons in helping the club reach the Western Conference Final of the USL Cup Playoffs in both the 2015 and 2017 seasons.
Christian Ibeagha | Photo courtesy Isaiah J. Downing / Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Sebastien Ibeagha | Photo courtesy Darren Abate / San Antonio FC
Two standout center backs, the Ibeagha brothers have both helped lead their respective clubs to success during their time in the USL. Both former standouts for the Carolina Dynamo in the Premier Development League, Sebastien was named the 2017 USL Defender of the Year a season ago before making the move to New York City FC this offseason.
While they’ve never played alongside each other in the USL, the brothers have also never squared off against each other either. The closest they came was in 2016, when Christian was with Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, and Sebastien had spent time on loan with Rio Grande Valley FC from the Houston Dynamo.
Both have led their respective clubs to success in the league, however, with Christian making 29 appearances for the Switchbacks to help the side reach the USL Cup Playoffs in 2016. Sebastien’s stellar displays for San Antonio FC, meanwhile, are well documented, as he became the anchor of the best defense in the USL on his way to earning a return to Major League Soccer this offseason.
Alex Martinez | Photo courtesy Charlotte Independence
Enzo Martinez | Photo courtesy Charlotte Independence
After the offseason move by Enzo to the Colorado Rapids, it has felt a little odd not to see the Martinez brothers suiting up alongside one another so far this season for the Charlotte Independence, where the brothers were key figures in the club’s trips to the USL Cup Playoffs each of the past two seasons.
With back-to-back USL All-League First Team selections, and back-to-back nominations for USL Most Valuable Player, Enzo earned his place among the elite in the league, as he recorded 28 goals across 83 appearances over the past three seasons, including a career-best 17 goals last season to drive the Independence back to the postseason.
Alex has also had his moments to shine, though, with 58 appearances over the past three seasons that included a career year in 2017 that saw him record three goals and four assists in 27 games while providing strong two-way play in the Independence midfield. With Enzo now in Colorado, Alex is soldiering on this season with an assist and four key passes in his first three games of 2018.
Adam Najem | Photo courtesy Bethlehem Steel FC
David Najem | Photo courtesy Bethlehem Steel FC
With David having signed with the New York Red Bulls II prior to the 2016 season, there was a sense of intrigue when younger brother Adam was signed by the Philadelphia Union a year later, and it didn’t take long for the siblings to square off on the field on June 16.
Adam got the better of the sibling rivalry that day, as he recorded a goal and assist to lead Bethlehem Steel FC to a 2-0 victory at MSU Soccer Park while David went the full 90 minutes for the hosts. Adam recorded two goals and eight assists overall for Steel FC in 2017 while also making his first start in MLS for the Union last July against Columbus Crew SC.
David, though, is the brother who has earned silverware in the league as part of the Red Bulls II’s USL Cup-winning side in 2016, when he started in the final against the Swope Park Rangers. Now a member of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, for whom he’s started all four games to start the new season, David is looking as though he’s on another team set to contend for the cup.
Jose Villarreal | Photo courtesy LA Galaxy II
Jaime Villarreal | Photo courtesy LA Galaxy II
The Villarreal brothers were part of the standout start made by the LA Galaxy II when the club became the first member of the USL to be owned-and-operated by an MLS club in 2014. Both products of the club’s academy, forward Jose and midfielder Jaime appeared regularly side by side for the club over the past four seasons.
Jose made his biggest contribution to Los Dos in the 2016 season, as he recorded six goals in 25 appearances to help the side reach the USL Cup Playoffs for a third consecutive year. The playmaking forward made 40 appearances in the USL overall on loan from the Galaxy, where he had signed as a Homegrown player prior to the 2012 MLS season.
Jaime made the move to the Galaxy’s squad ahead of the 2017 season after proving himself with Los Dos since the club kicked off in 2014. The central midfielder made 25 appearances in the 2015 season, as the Galaxy II claimed the USL Western Conference championship, and 72 overall in addition to seven appearances for the Galaxy before making the move to Sacramento Republic FC this offseason.