There’s an old Vietnamese proverb that goes, “Brothers and sisters are as close as hands and feet.” Though I can’t tell if that means they’re totally similar, sort of similar or completely different.
But I got to thinking about brothers this past week when I heard Rodrigo Izecson dos Santos Leite – better known as Digão, and even better known as Kaká’s little brother – was trialing with the New York Red Bulls.
Blood runs thick in the beautiful game, and in the history of Major League Soccer, there have been plenty of guys who have a brother in the sport, either within the league or outside of it. In fact, 16 sets of brothers have played in MLS over its 16 seasons (10 have actually played on the same team at the same time), and it’s been a fun look at how soccer often runs in the family.
Currently, there are two sets of brothers within the league ranks: Sanna and Sainey Nyassi, at Montreal and New England, respectively, and Gabriel and Michael Farfan (below right), identical twins with Philadelphia.
Those four guys are fairly on par with their brothers as far as talent, ability and accomplishments. For a guy like Digão, however, it’s always been a battle to distinguish yourself from the shadow of your more-accomplished brother. Regardless of whether Digão joins MLS, he’ll know exactly how guys like John Rooney feel.
Wayne’s little bro, like his superstar older sibling, also came up in the Everton youth system. He grabbed some headlines when the Red Bulls selected him in the 2011 SuperDraft. But he made five scant appearances for the MLS club, and now suits up for Orlando City of the USL Pro.
Likewise, Federico Higuaín hears plenty of comparisons to his little brother Gonzalo, who’s nothing short of a star for Real Madrid and the Argentine national team. But so far, Federico has been able to make his own magic with the Columbus Crew, who have lost only once since his arrival and have pushed back into the playoff race.
It can’t be easy to be the brother of the bigger name. Within the annals of MLS, just ask Jamar Beasley, Steve Wondolowski, Sean Henderson, even MLSsoccer.com’s own Greg Lalas. (For the record, all those guys have done just fine for themselves, thank you.)
Drifting outside of MLS, there are also guys like Gordon Kljestan, Justin Davies and Euan Holden, whose last names are well known to fans of the US national team. None of those guys is as well-known as their brothers, but are doing just fine around the game at home and abroad.
But in looking around at some of the bigger names in MLS history, there are plenty of instances when the more accomplished sibling actually landed here. All MLS fans know of Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Only some may know Gustavo, his twin.
Like Guille, Gustavo came up in the youth ranks of Argentina’s Gimnasia La Plata and spent some time in a Boca Juniors kit. But he never became a legend like his brother. (He did, however, get around more, with time spent in Spain, Peru and Puerto Rico.)
Raise your hand if you’ve heard of Ronald Valderrama. The former Colombian youth international spent the bulk of his career in his native land and suited up in the 1987 FIFA World Youth Championship. But that’s about as close as he got to big-time, while older brother Carlos played in Europe, appeared in three World Cups and became one of the early icons of MLS.
There's also Chris Cahill, captain of the Samoan national team. His older brother is a guy by the name of Tim.
But if it’s the future you’re after, there’s plenty of brotherly MLS talent on the horizon. Check out the college ranks and you’ll find junior striker Max Estrada, following in his brother David’s footsteps at UCLA. Six hundred miles east-northeast of Kansas City, Matt Besler’s brother Nick is making waves at Notre Dame.
Go younger and Andrew Wenger’s little brother, Jonathan, is a freshman defender at Elon University. There’s also 16-year-old Logan Bunbury, a forward within the US Soccer youth system whose surname might ring a bell.
Looks like the family that plays together, stays together.
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com. “The Throw-In” appears every Thursday.