Sports

Summertime fun: O'Brien brothers set to clash

By CASEY OLSON

The Mirror

The summer months are made for family reunions. Just being outside under the sun, getting out the barbecue and throwing on some hot dogs and catching up with long-lost family members once a year is part of the American culture.

But the O'Briens aren't your normal family.

Instead of standing around the barbecue making small talk with your second cousins, the O'Briens discuss penalty kicks, goals and assists. Soccer is just what their family's existence revolves around.

This year's O'Brien family reunion will take place tonight at Curtis High School in University Place. That's when the Seattle Sounders will take to the field to play an exhibition game against the Tacoma Tides. The game will take place at 7 p.m. in University Place.

The game will feature three members of the O'Brien family. Older brother, Leighton, stars as a midfielder for the Sounders, while younger brother, Ciaran, will take the field for the Tides. The family ties don't stop there. Head coach of the Tacoma Tides is Fran O'Brien, the matriarch of the family.

“As a dad it’ll be unusual. It’ll be good to see them challenge each of them and we’ll see how it goes.” Fran O'Brien said when asked to describe his sons clash.

The Seattle Sounders play under the same soccer governing body as the Tide — the United Soccer Leagues. The Sounders, however, play in the top professional tier of that association, the USL-1 League. The Tacoma Tide play in the only amateur league of the USL, called the Premier Development League. It is just that, a league for the development of young, mostly college-age talent in the United States. Both the USL-1 and the PDL host teams from all over the United States.

Leighton O'Brien was a star at Federal Way High School in the mid-1990s and went on to play at the University of San Diego. Following his college career, he was drafted by the New England Revolution in the third round of the 1999 Major League Soccer college draft. He never played for the Revs, and instead spent the year with the then-San Jose Clash, only playing in four matches. San Jose released Leighton in 2000, and he moved on to the Seattle Sounders of the A-League. In 2003, he led the league in assists and was named league MVP.

In 2004, O'Brien moved over to Sweden to play for Bodens BK. He came back to Major League Soccer a year later, signing with Real Salt Lake. He lasted less than a year back in MLS and returned to the Sounders.

Ciaran O'Brien is on the verge of making a jump to the professional level. He is considered the highest touted transfer in collegiate soccer, making a move from his brother's alma mater — San Diego — to the University of California-Santa Barbara in the fall. He will join the national champions in the fall as a sophomore.

During his freshman season at the University of San Diego, O'Brien not only made the Second Team All-West Coast Conference but was also co-freshman of the year in the league after finishing with six goals and four assists.

This season, Ciaran O'Brien has three goals and leads the Tides with four assists from his center midfield position.

A good performance in tonight's game could land a young player their first professional contract, as well as bragging rights.

With the Sounders and the Tide so close in location, the rivalry is almost more of a partnership. In fact, when the Tacoma Tide’s league rights were acquired in 2006, the Sounders actually had to sign an allowance for another team inside their franchise boundaries. They were happy to do so.

“From the beginning, the Sounders organization has been supportive of our team and in getting this game off the ground. It is always a treat for our boys to test themselves against a quality side such as the Sounders,” said Tide’s general manager, Mike Jennings.

“We’ve enjoyed getting to know the Tacoma Tide organization and look forward to our exhibition game,” said Bart Wiley, general manager of the Seattle Sounders.

Keith Larson, an assistant coach for the Tide agrees that this game and these two teams are positive for the Puget Sound soccer community, “It’s really for the fans first, and to pull these two teams together.” Larson also added, “As far as the team, honestly, we want to win.”

The Tides roster also includes Thomas Jefferson High School graduate Steve Mohn and Decatur grad Joshua Norwood. Mohn, a defender, currently plays at the University of Washington and Norwood, a midfielder, plays at the University of Connecticut.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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