When sophomore defender Ben Di Rosa was unable to make the mid-September trip to Northwestern for Maryland’s first conference matchup due to illness, it was the first time he had been separated from his twin brother and fellow defender, Matt Di Rosa, for more than 24 hours.
“That was just kind of a crazy thing the whole team thought it was pretty funny,” Ben chuckled. “It wasn’t like a streak we were working hard to keep intact.”
“It’s not like we ever planned it, it’s just that we never had a reason not to be together,” said Matt.
The identical twins have done almost everything together from the moment their Paraguayan father, Paolo, placed a small soccer ball in their crib the day they were born. From socializing with the same friends to playing on the same teams, the Di Rosas have been inseparable.
“I thought at some point they would start to separate a little more, become more independent,” Paolo said. “But they love being together and it’s great. It’s like having your best friend with you at all times.”
With similar jersey numbers, hairstyles and personalities, there aren’t many differences beyond Ben being right-footed and Matt preferring his left. In fact, they seem to embrace their sameness more than anything.
Good luck to our friends @TerpsWSoccer in their home opener tonight!
— Maryland Soccer (@MarylandMSoccer) August 24, 2018
The Di Rosas have been key cogs of the Maryland backline this season, with persistent injuries and illnesses keeping the likes of senior left back Chase Gasper and talented freshman Brett St. Martin out of the lineup.
“Matt and Ben are just terrific members of this team. They’re versatile, they’re great students, incredible competitors, and I know wherever I put them they are going to give us a great performance,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “They’re great competitors and really, really reliable players and I am sure they are going to play a pivotal role this Sunday.”
The pair did play a pivotal role during this past Sunday’s dramatic 2-1 Big Ten Quarterfinal win in overtime at Michigan State. Both started and played all 98 minutes of the must-win conference tournament matchup that boosted Maryland’s record to 8-6-3 and another step closer to a 24th NCAA Tournament bid during Cirovski’s reign.
With less than 10 minutes remaining in that hotly contested quarterfinal, Ben sprinted from midfield to the top of the 18-yard box to quash a Spartan counter attack to keep things level. Moments later, Matt sent a dangerous cross that freshman forward Justin Gielen nearly headed in to put the Terps in front in what would have been Matt’s second assist of the year.
Those kind of moments show the importance the duo has had on both ends of the pitch this campaign. Matt remarked on what it means to share the field with his brother.
“I never take it for granted,” Matt said. “We’re so fortunate to play here together, so we definitely take time to reflect on how nice it is to be on the field at the same time together.”
So far, Matt has played 1,022 minutes to fill the void that Gasper’s nagging injury has left. Yet, even when Gasper returned to the pitch, Cirovski has deployed Matt further forward to play as a left winger, the position he played during the first two years of high school, as well as some minutes playing a center attacking role.
Ben, on the other side of the pitch, has logged 697 minutes at the right back position he’s played his whole life, often competing with St. Martin before senior defensive midfielder Andrew Samuels held the spot earlier in the season.
“It’s honestly kind of been like when one of us is playing, the other might not be playing and then vice versa,” Ben said. “It’s definitely great to have a brother there to be there to lift you up when you’re not playing so much and just tell you to be ready and stay confident.”
The two often talk to each other after games to discuss the other’s performance and what they can improve upon, often staying uplifting to give each other the confidence needed to compete at college soccer’s highest level.
“It’s nice that we have such a close relationship off the field that helps us on the field too,” Matt explained.
Last fall was quite the opposite in terms of playing time for the Washington D.C. natives, as Ben made 14 appearances compared to Matt’s five. An added sense of confidence and versatility has allowed Matt to get more time on the pitch.
While combining for just 661 minutes in 2017, it’s no surprise to see the pair make larger contributions in 2018.
“I think one thing that has been noteworthy is how they learn and elevate their game every year,” said their father Paolo, who has seen consistent progression from his two sons despite having doubts of how well they would adapt to the college game. “I don’t know what the limit is at this point, if they want to go pro at this point, they could very well do that.”
It takes 25 minutes past University Blvd. to get to Carter Barron Park, the Di Rosa stomping grounds from their recreational soccer days. It was there where their father taught them the principles of the sport.
It was there where the Di Rosa twins scored so many goals in their first organized soccer games together that Paolo had to pull his 5-year-old sons aside to tell them to tone down their Premier League-type goal celebrations the two had constantly seen on TV.
Then, after pummeling opposing recreational teams filled with departing children who were just trying to have fun with a new sport, Paolo set up cones on the field to help the Di Rosas further improve. Paolo’s passion for the game made his sons want to pursue it further, as they put more time into perfecting their craft.
Brought up with a South American influence, Paolo taught Ben and Matt how to properly dribble, an aspect of the game Paolo said is often overlooked in the early stages of development for American soccer.
Paolo was born in America before moving back to his parents’ homeland of Paraguay at age 7. He then returned to the States 10 years later to play college soccer at Harvard. Prior to then, Paolo played at the academy level for one of Paraguay’s top clubs, Olimpia.
He admitted the level of college soccer was not what it is today, making it that much more gratifying to see his sons in action at Maryland. He’s used his experiences to teach Ben and Matt everything about the game at the earliest age possible.
“It is true that I kind of brainwashed them by the time they were babies basically,” Paolo said. “They certainly were kicking a ball at age one or one and a half, and bizarrely well. I have videotapes of it, too.”
Nine years later, the Di Rosa brothers put those kicking skills to the test.
“I remember when we were both 10 years old, and it was off the kickoff where we would just do a bunch of give-and-gos all the way to the goal. We beat like five guys just doing give and gos around them,” Matt recalled. “That’s when our twin chemistry came into play.”
Ben and Matt moved on from dominating recreational leagues to play integral roles for Bethesda Academy, a team whose close proximity allowed for an easier recruiting process to College Park.
With similar interests and aspirations, they let interested schools know they wanted to attend the same school early in the recruiting process.
“‘Look, we’re kind of like a package. We want to play together, so if you’re only interested in one or one over the other, it’s probably not the best fit,’” the Di Rosas told interested coaches.
Soon enough, the duo were touring Maryland’s campus as juniors in high school. After impressive displays at the Academy showcase that summer, they committed in June, and the rest is history.
“It’s marvelous to see them playing in college, especially at a soccer powerhouse like Maryland,” said a proud father.
Like most Maryland soccer players, they have aspirations to play professionally. Unlike the recruiting process, however, they won’t have as much of a choice for their next destination.
“We’re definitely not going to be together forever, but we’ll definitely keep in touch and stay close,” said Matt. “We’ll definitely help each other out, talk about soccer and I don’t think our relationship will change. It’ll be different and we’ll have to adjust, but it’ll be fine.”
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