By David Willis
---- — For opponents, there are times it seems that Kelly kid is everywhere for the Andover boys soccer team.
One minute, the captain with short blond hair is playing deep in the defensive end; the next minute, he is firing a shot on goal on the offensive end.
Then it clicks in.
“A lot of people will say, ‘Wow, that kid is all over the field,’” Matt Kelly said. “Then, by the end of the game, they figure it out and come over and say, ‘I didn’t know you had a twin.’”
The reason it seems that Kelly is in two places at once on the pitch is because they are. But the Andover co-captains understand the mistake.
Identical twins Sam and Matt Kelly both lead the Golden Warriors soccer team, with Matt a force on defense and Sam a go-to striker who entered the week with a pair of goals already this season.
“People joke with us a lot that it isn’t fair because we know what the other is thinking” Sam said, laughing. “But we really do have a special connection. He is a little more disciplined on the field and I am a little more creative, but overall we are very similar players. And we look pretty similar, too.”
Similar does not begin to describe the pair, who look exactly the same outside of a mole on the left side of Matt’s face (“I tell people mole equals Matt” Sam said.)
But for Andover coach Jim Saalfrank, a little mistaken identity is a small price to pay to have the standout twins on his team.
“Those two are tenacious on the field,” the coach said. “They are also born leaders. They will do anything it takes to make our team better, and that’s something you can’t teach.
“But I still can’t tell them apart. The numbers during games help an awful lot.”
Growing up in Andover, the Kellys — who often wear different color clothes to make it easier to tell them apart — played nearly every sport for a time.
“My dad was a basketball player (at Winthrop High) and always pushed us to be athletic,” Sam said. “He wanted us to play basketball and we did for a while, along with baseball. But we both fell in love with soccer and made our own way.”
Even from their early days in youth soccer, Matt seemed more drawn to the defensive end and Sam more attracted to offense.
“People have always been amazed we are on the same team and play different positions,” Matt said. “He has always been more offensive and I am more a defender. I like to stay disciplined and he will roam around and go after the ball. But we both love soccer.”
The twins both made the Andover High varsity team last season, but their time on the field together was cut short after just five games.
“During a game, someone pushed me from behind,” Sam said. “I hyperextended my back forward. At first, I thought it was just muscles, but then I went to the doctor and found out it was much more serious.”
Sam had suffered a stress fracture of his lumbar spine and was done for the season, missing the final 16 games.
“It was rough standing on the sidelines or sitting on the bench and watching my teammates play,” he said. “I felt like I could be performing and helping them. It was really crushing. I didn’t need surgery, but I had to wear a plastic back brace for four months. It was very stiff and very hot and presses down on your pressure points. At first, I thought I may be able to come back late in the season, but the doctors said no.”
After nearly a full year of rehab, Sam returned with a bang last week when he scored two goals and assisted on another in a victory over Lawrence.
“Coming off the injury, it was just unbelievable,” he said. “And my first home game, hearing my name called out by the announcer was great.”
Now reunited on the field, the twins are busy supporting one another and enjoying the inevitable sibling rivalry.
“Yeah, we compete,” Matt said. “In school when we are in the same classes, we are always saying, ‘I bet I’m going to get the better grade.’ Or when we are shooting around, we are always trying to top each other with trick shots.”
When the decision for captains came up, Saalfrank knew that there was no decision.
“When we were talking about captains, and the traits of being a leader like character and leadership, I knew I couldn’t choose just one,” Saalfrank said. “They both embodied those traits, so I knew I had to choose both.”
The two now have their eyes set on a big year for the Andover soccer team.
“I feel like this is a team that has the talent and chemistry to have a really good season,” Sam said. “I feel like we can compete.”