Twins divide and conquer
Different roles serve Rockport
Watching the Rockport High varsity boys’ soccer squad may prompt a double take.
One player is not dominating at both ends of the pitch.
The Vikings are captained by identical twins, Andrew and Chandler Burnham, known to many as A.J. and C.J.
The two may look alike, and in fact, each measure 6 feet, 180 pounds, but on the pitch, their roles are quite different.
“If anyone who knew how we played saw us out on the field there’d be no mistaking which one of us is which,’’ said C.J.
As twins they’re very close,’’ said Rockport coach David Curley. “They’re very supportive of each other, but they also push one another.
“A.J., as long as I have known him, has always been a defender. I think as a result of that C.J. has always been attacking [A.J.]. As a result, C.J. tends to always be on the attack, always looking to move the ball forward and put pressure on the defense, whereas A.J. appears to be more comfortable organizing the defense.’’
The give-and-take between the brothers has played an integral role in their development as players: A.J. as a solid defender, and C.J. as an offensive talent.
“Growing up we definitely played a lot of one-on-one in the back yard and I think we both benefited a lot from always having someone to play against,’’ said C.J., who led the Cape Ann in scoring (16 goals) and assists (8), while A.J. earned his second consecutive all-league selection.
“C.J. takes pleasure in beating a guy off the dribble. A.J. takes pleasure in taking the ball off of a guy’s foot,’’ said Curley, who admits that he initially had a hard time telling the two apart.
As captains, each has their own style. A.J. is entering his second year as a captain and C.J. is taking the reins for the first time.
A.J. tends to talk more, while C.J. tries to lead by example.
“I think [A.J.] relishes the opportunity to lead and enjoys it. He’s more vocal,’’ said Curley. “C.J. likes to be out in front leading drills. From a physicality perspective, he’s in great shape. So when we are doing conditioning drills and we’re doing skill drills, there are areas that he has always excelled at and he likes to be up in front leading there.’’
“They’re both good leaders in terms of how they push the players and encourage the players around them to work harder, each style of leadership works well,’’ he said.
C.J. concedes, “A.J.’s a lot more defensive than I am. He acts more tough and likes to fight for balls and he’s right he is tough, but I like to attack more and try to score goals.’’
Behind the play of the Burnhams and senior goalie Keady Segel, the Globe’s Division 3 Player of the Year, the Vikings were the surprise of Cape Ann a year ago, and then ripped off four straight wins in the state tourney before falling to Dover-Sherborn, 2-1, in the EMass final
“It was a rebuilding year in the sense that we graduated eight seniors,’’ said Curley. “Those seniors were part of the program for three years,
“We’re a small school; we’ve got maybe 75 seniors in our graduating class and to have eight seniors is unusual for us.
“I think the rest of the league felt that it was a rebuilding year for us. But I knew that we were going to be OK. We just needed our sophomores to step in and fill some of those slots left by those eight seniors that played all those minutes for us, and they did,’’ he said.
Ultimately the Vikings finished just a goal away from playing in the state championship game.
The Vikings plan on building on that experience this season, adding new wrinkles to the offense to best suit their personnel.
“The [Burnhams’] skill set allows us the opportunity to move some other players around and be flexible,’’ said Curley. “The year prior to last we were a 3-5-2 and a 4-4-2 type of a team most of the time. Last year we went to a 4-5-1. This year we’re going to mix a couple of different shapes.’’
C.J. has the ability to play almost anywhere on the field. Curley plans to keep him up top unless teams double him. In that case, he will swing the senior out wide and open up the middle of the field for the rest of the team to take advantage.
A.J. can play anywhere from the back line to the middle of the field, helping the team to focus on controlling the middle of the field and time of possession.
“Our versatility speaks not just to A.J. and C.J., but to the soccer abilities of these kids,’’ said Curley. “Being a small school and not having depth year-in-and-year-out we have to have versatility. We don’t have a kid that just plays back. We don’t have a kid that just plays striker. We play soccer.’’
“They’re very good players,’’ said Brent Munroe, coach at Cape Ann rival Lynnfield High. “They’re skilled high club level players. They both rely on skill more then physicality, not to say they aren’t physical. They know the game.’’
Curley does not want his players getting hung up on a specific formation, or where their technically supposed to be.
“We want numbers up when we’re on the attack and we want numbers back when we’re on defense, and the shape of the team is going to be dictated by how the other team is attacking us or how we wish to attack them,’’ he said.
Munroe said, “If you have two skilled players it’s usually best to split them up and have one on each end of the field helping the team.’’
For a small town, Rockport is doing something right when it comes to soccer. Of the roughly 190 boys eligible to go out for soccer in the town, 52 are trying out. And it’s players like the Burnhams that are helping keep soccer so important to the town.
“To have 25 percent of the boys’ student population going out for soccer to me is heartwarming,’’ said Curley. “I think it speaks volumes to our youth program and the idea that success breeds success. Over the last four seasons we’ve had success and I think it generates an exciting atmosphere in town.
“In a lot of communities they have Friday night lights for football. We have Friday night lights for soccer,’’ said Curley, who’s been a part of building the soccer program in town for more than 35 years now.
C.J. said that he and his brother realize that as seniors, “knowing this is our last chance to play together, I keep realizing that every game is more important and the last time we’ll ever play here or there.’’