Brandon (L) and Brent (R) Zuniga - brothers off the field, rivals between the lines
Soccer News: Two-on-One with Soccer Twins Brent and Brandon Zuniga
“Once he’s wearing a Flash jersey and I’m wearing a Boca jersey, it’s a bit of a different story when we step between the lines for 90 minutes.” Brent Zuniga
See these two amazingly talented local players when San Diego Boca FC host San Diego Flash at historic Balboa Stadium, on Saturday, June 16, kickoff time 7:00 p.m.
When you first meet Brent and Brandon Zuniga it can be hard to tell these talented, 24-year-old soccer-playing twin brothers apart. When you look closely, though, you start to see the little differences. For instance, Brandon (who is ten minutes older) wears a small stud below the left side of his lower lip and Brent’s hair puffs up a little higher. Oh, and the fact that on the field Brandon wears the yellow and black of the San Diego Flash while Brent is clad in the colors of San Diego Boca FC.
This becomes even more important when you realize that the two will take the field this Saturday at Balboa Stadium when Boca host the Flash in the second round of the San Diego Derby. It will actually be the third meeting between the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) teams this year, including a preseason Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup qualifying match that Boca took 1-0 with a last-minute goal.
The brothers – Brent a defender and Brandon a forward – did not face off in that game, but in the regular season match the two went toe-to-toe several times as Flash and Boca played to a 2-2 stalemate. And while Boca’s fortunes this season have not gone well, anyone who has seen the two sides meet over the past two years knows that this will be an all-out battle where either team could come out on top. SoccerNation sat down with the Zuniga brothers to find out more about them and the game to come.
SNN: How did the two of you get started in soccer?
Brent Zuniga: We pretty much picked up soccer from our dad (Byron Zuniga). He played for Guatemala when he was young – that’s where he was born – and he was on the Guatemala National Team there for a while. He was supposed to go to the Olympics with them in ’88, but we were born so he had to stay back with our mom. So we picked up soccer from our dad and he really instilled it in us from a young age, but we didn’t really didn’t start playing competitively until we were about 11 years old.
SNN: Where did the two of you start playing?
Brent Zuniga: We started playing with a little club called the Junior Flash, probably about ten years ago when it was a different team. Then we moved here and started playing for Scripps United and played with them all through high school. Then in our senior year at Scripps Ranch High School we finally parted ways. He [Brandon] went to Nomads and I stayed with my team and followed the coach to La Jolla Impact. That’s where we split ways for the first time, so it was kind of a weird situation.
SNN: Brandon, you play forward and Brent is a defender. How did you end up at those positions?
Brandon Zuniga: Our first year of soccer we were both wingers because our coach liked to use our speed to get up and down the field. As we grew older we started switching positions. When we moved here to Scripps United Brent actually started playing up top, and I stayed in the midfield all the way until Nomads.
That year we were kind of short on players and coach needed me to go up top, so I played up top from time to time. When high school season started we had one forward locked in and no one else to play up there. The coach put me up there and I ended up scoring about 14 goals, so that was my position from then on. Brent moved back from forward to the midfield and then back to defense his senior year of high school. So it was in our senior year when I went up top and he went back to defense. That’s kind of how it ended up working out.
SNN: What happened after high school?
Brandon Zuniga: After high school I ended up getting recruited by Cal State San Marcos and I brought Brent along with me. He made the team too, so it was a perfect opportunity for us to keep playing together. We both played four years there and had a lot of success. It was a brand new program our freshman year, 2006. We had a lot of success our freshman year, and ended up finishing 12 wins, 3 losses and a tie. We just missed the playoffs because of strength of schedule.
Our sophomore year kind of regressed a little bit. We picked up in the schedule, played harder teams, and the effect of that our record kind of went backwards. But our junior and senior years we got strong again. The first year we ever made playoffs was our senior year, so that was really cool to be able to do that our senior year. We both had really successful seasons our junior and senior years, so that was pretty big for us.
SNN: Did you ever play against each other when you were in different clubs?
Brandon Zuniga: In club we never played against each other. We almost had the opportunity once.
Brent Zuniga: We had the National Tournament at State Cup, and we were both scheduled to in that tournament. But at the last minute my team wasn’t going to have enough players that wanted to go to State Cup, so we had to drop out. We wouldn’t have been in the same group in pool play, but if we had made it out we would have been in the groups that played each other. That would have been the first time we played each other. So the first time we played each other was the game on April 14 this year.
SNN: What it was like playing against each other?
Brent Zuniga: You prepare yourself a little bit for it, but you never know what it’s going to be like until it actually happens. Just driving to the game together was probably the weirdest part. As we left the car we went our separate ways and said, “Alright, see you at kickoff.”
You think about it and you imagine how weird it might be, but it never really hits you until it actually happens.
Brandon Zuniga: It was definitely a different experience. He’s the type of defender that I don’t normally play against, someone who can match my athleticism and my speed. The things that I thrive on against other defenders can’t necessarily work against him because we have the same attributes. So I have to kind of change my style up a little bit when I’m playing against him. It’s definitely different.
SNN: How did you end up on different teams?
Brent Zuniga: We both tried out for the Flash when they had their tryouts last November. There were about 60 players there and they ended up calling back four players, and Brandon was one of them. I wasn’t called back, but I harbored no ill will about it. For me, maybe it wasn’t the right timing or maybe I didn’t show enough in the tryout.
I tried out for Boca when they had theirs a month later, and they liked what they saw and they gave me a shot. I appreciated that, so I continued to work hard for them and it led to me being on the Reserve team, then to being called up to the first team and then to being co-captain of the first team. So it’s really been a redemption story for me and I’m glad I’ve been able to work hard for them because they put the trust in me to be a leader on the squad. I’m indebted to them because they gave me a chance and I want to be there for them game in and game out.
Warren [SD Flash head coach Warren Barton] liked my style of play, and that got me into playing with them and actually being in the starting 11 for a while. It’s been a trip. It’s been hard to keep that spot because of the amount of talent on the team, so it’s a matter of who is playing best at practice that week – those are the guys who are going to be on the 18 and in the 11. It’s been an amazing experience, not only to be a part of that but scoring goals and helping us win games. It’s just a great experience.Brandon Zuniga: After the tryouts I knew that I had done pretty well, and I was kind of expecting to make it. They said they were sending out emails the next day, and it was getting kind of late and I hadn’t gotten one yet, so I was a little worried I hadn’t made it. Then I checked later that night and ended up getting the email that they wanted me to come to training with them and play with the Reserves. That’s pretty much what it was.
SNN: What are some of your best memories playing soccer?
Brandon Zuniga: Definitely back when we were playing together at Scripps United and going to our very first State Cup in Bakersfield. We stayed in the hotel with our team for the very first time, and it was fun getting to see what they were like away from soccer and then playing with them on the field. Also, we were pretty successful here at Scripps Ranch High School; we went to three CIF Finals in a row.
Playing at Cal State San Marcos was probably one of the best soccer experiences ever, just the relationships we built there with coaches and teammates. Everything we learned there is what brought us to the level we are at today and made us the players that we are, and it gave us a chance to play at this level. So we’re definitely indebted our coaches up there, Ron Pulvers and Bobby Renneisen, because they brought our game to where we can keep playing at this level.
Brent Zuniga: I pretty much have to echo that. High school was a great experience for us, just being able to be so successful. Not only that, but we were playing soccer with our best friends because we played in club together and then in high school together. Being able to have so much fun, be successful and play with your friends was just amazing.
At first the transition to college was a hard pill to swallow, getting used to it – the game is much faster in college. Brandon and I weren’t starters our freshman and sophomore years, so we had to work, and work, and work. Finally our junior season we both became starters on the team, and being able to work very hard and see where it got us further down the road was just huge.
Like he said, we’re indebted to coaches Ron Pulvers and Bobby Renneisen because they prepared us for where we are today. Without the work that they put us through in college, without getting us prepared for it, we wouldn’t be playing semi-professional soccer right now. So we’re definitely indebted to them because they have so much to do with where we’re at right now. It’s huge.
SNN: What does the future look like for each of you? Do you plan to continue on with soccer?
Brent Zuniga: Right now soccer is not necessarily something that I’m looking at to go for professionally. I’m happy where I’m at right now, just being able to play semi-pro and being able to stay in the area and focus on what I hope to do with my life. Youth ministry is what I do right now. So it’s nice being able to focus on that and then having soccer as something where I can get away from everything else and focus on something that’s been very successful. Being at this level is huge. I don’t know where it will take me, but right now I’m just satisfied with where I’m at.
SNN: Who are your favorite teams in the United States and in the world?
Brandon Zuniga: For me, I would never ever turn the chance down if it came about. Warren has a lot of connections. At this point there are definitely a lot of things in my game that I need to work on to eventually try to get a tryout and get to that level, but it’s definitely something that I’m willing to do. Like Brent said, I’m very happy with where I’m at right now, but if an opportunity like that came along it’s certainly something I wouldn’t pass up.
Brandon Zuniga: My favorite American team is the LA Galaxy. They’re close, and I’ve been to a few of their games. In the world, I’m not just on the bandwagon. I’ve been a Chelsea fan since about 2004, when they had players like (Juan Sebastián) Verón and (Hernan) Crespo, (Frank) Lampard behind them, John Terry, Arjen Robben. I’ve always been a Chelsea fan, so them winning the championship this year was just icing on the cake for me.
Brent Zuniga: For me, I’ve never had a favorite team. Galaxy is my favorite American team; I support them even though they’re having a rough season. As far as the world stage, I just enjoy watching good soccer. I don’t really have a team that I root for. I just enjoy studying defenders, especially central defenders, my position. Seeing how I can better my game. I just enjoy watching good soccer games.
SNN: Do you think it’s important to watch professional soccer regularly?
Brandon Zuniga: At this level it’s imperative that you watch regularly. Those are the players that we strive to model our game after them, and how can you learn anything if you’re not watching the best players in the world do it?
SNN: Who are the two or three players you watch most to improve your game?
Brandon: First and foremost, Didier Drogba. As I said, I’ve been a major Chelsea fan for a while, and I think that when he’s on his game he’s definitely one of the best forwards in the world. He’s strong and he has technical ability and speed. Of course, Messi is the best player in the world. You watch him and his size doesn’t matter at all. His technical ability is incredible. When he’s dribbling the ball it looks like he has a string attached from the ball to his shoe, and it never goes more than three yards away. And he takes defenders on incredibly well.
Then, even though he’s not a forward I’ve always been a huge Frank Lampard fan. I was a midfielder back in high school, so he was probably the first player that I really watched and tried to see what he did so I could match that on the field, too. So those three: Messi, Lampard and Drogba.
Brent Zuniga: I like how Jay Demerit of the United States plays. He’s not necessarily the most technical player in the world, but he’s an enforcer back there as far as central defenders, and that’s what I like to be. I’m an athletic defender, and I like to get in on tackles and headers. I like to let the forwards know it’s going to be a long day when they come against me.
Another player that I really admire is A.J. De la Garza of the LA Galaxy because he’s a central defender. He’s not the biggest guy in the world by any means, and neither am I, and when I see guy of his stature making it on such a big stage – especially in the center of the defense where coaches like the guys to be big – and how successful he’s been in the last couple of seasons paired with Omar Gonzales, I think it’s a great story. I really enjoy watching him with his speed and his ability to read the game, and how successful he is being a small guy on a back line like that, playing in the center back line and being asked to cover the gaps and spaces.
I figure a center back is one of, if not the most important position on the field because a lot of coaches like to be defensive-minded first, and you’re reading the game right in front of the goalkeeper. You’re helping him keep the ball out of the net, so that’s the most important part of the game in my opinion. Those are the two guys I really enjoy watching and studying.
SNN: What are your thoughts about the game on Saturday?
Brent Zuniga: It’s going to be a crazy one, just like the last two. For us, since we’re pretty much at the bottom of the table, we’re taking it a game at a time trying to scrape and claw. At this point it’s going to be a miracle if we get in [the playoffs], but we’re just going to take it game-by-game starting with this Saturday against the Flash.
Obviously they’re the best team in the league with an 8-0-2 record and no losses yet. They’re the most consistent team in the league and everyone is gunning for them. Everyone is coming to get them, and they’ve still managed to be undefeated this whole time. So for me and our team, we’re coming out to get them.
The Flash players like to say they’re the best team in the league and everyone’s coming to get them, but at Boca we’ve put together some good performances the last couple of games. Things have gone really crazy this season as far as the releasing of players and just trying to get a consistent lineup. We haven’t had the same lineup in two games this entire season. So it’s been crazy, but we’re coming for sure this Saturday.
Brandon Zuniga: We already know it’s going to be a hectic, crazy environment. Personally I don’t consider it a road game at all. I feel like our fans are going to be there. I think the crowd is going to be bigger than when they came to our field, because our field is kind of north, almost North County. This is going to be downtown San Diego, 7:00 at night, so I think it’s going to be a huge crowd.
We know that Boca gives us a hard time every single time we play them. Going back to last year, even when I wasn’t on the team, that was the only team that beat Flash on the field during the season. It’s the only team that’s beaten us on the field this season, and then they also got a tie with us. Besides FC Hasental this last weekend, they’re the only team to pick up points off us this season.
We know that every single time they play us that they are coming. I know that they’ve been playing well lately, so that goes into it even more. We’re just practicing and working hard, and we know it’s going to be a tough game, but we’re looking to get the points like we usually do.
SNN: You have both been very successful. What advice do you have for young players?
Brent Zuniga: The harder you work the better off you’ll be. It’s about working hard every time you take the field, not just during games but at practice, which is where it starts. Practice is where players are made, being able to ply your trade and apply yourself 100 percent. And then it goes on to doing things on your own outside of practice, whether it’s hill sprints or ball work. We like to do a lot of hill sprints on our own outside of practice. That’s what’s gotten us prepared to take numerous fitness tests in college. Just being able to work together and push each other definitely helps. Working hard on the practice pitch is where it all starts in order to take it to game day.
Brandon Zuniga: There is definitely no glory without sacrifice. It’s working about hard. I personally emphasize a lot of work on your own, whether it’s running or going to the park with a ball to do some technical work or working with someone else like we can do. Just working on aspects of your game that you know you struggle with – in the off season, in between practices – just working your hardest to make those aspects of your game better. That’s what’s going to push you forward and keep you going. That’s the difference between someone who likes to play soccer and has fun with it and someone with the passion who wants to keep going and see how far they can take it. Just doing as much as you can to make yourself better.
SNN: Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share?
Brent Zuniga: I feel blessed to be in this situation. It’s an amazing feeling to know we’ve gotten this far in soccer. There may be further levels to go, but it’s an amazing feeling to know we’ve worked hard and gotten this far, and it’s just a blessing.
Brandon Zuniga: I agree. Just to know that there are so many players in San Diego who would like to be in the position we’re in, being on these teams. We’ve worked very, very hard to get where we’re at, and he’s right, it’s a blessing from God to be on the pitch at this high of a level and representing San Diego every time we step on the field. It’s been a good ride this season, for sure.
Related Articles: San Diego Boca FC on SoccerNation; San Diego Flash on SoccerNation