MURFREESBORO — One brother wins, one brother loses.
This is the dynamic that twins Ben and Sam El Maliki have come to know all spring.
Ben, who plays for MLK Magnet, and Sam, who plays for Valor College Prep, have met on opposite sides of the soccer field four times during their senior seasons. Those were pivotal district or region games decided by a combined one goal and one penalty kick.
“We usually let things calm down the first night after a game,” said Sam, who is two minutes younger than his brother.
There was a chance the twins would meet for a state championship with MLK and Valor both in the Class AA semifinals on Wednesday, but it didn’t come to fruition. Valor advanced with a 5-1 victory over Knoxville Halls, but MLK fell 2-0 against Greeneville.
Sam walked over to the MLK huddle afterward and put a hand on his brother’s shoulder.
Ben knows where he’ll be Friday when Valor takes on Greeneville for a state title.
“I can’t support the team that knocked us out, right? I might as well support my blood,” Ben said. “I’ll probably throw on a Valor top.”
Sara Jane Saliba raised the boys as many parents of twins do, synchronizing them with similar haircuts and clothes when they were young. They’ve always shared a club soccer team. But by the middle of their high school careers, Sam got accepted into Valor where he already knew some friends and took a different path.
For brothers who were in lockstep most of their lives, it was an opportunity to branch out.
When Valor moved up in classification to Class AA last season, the Wildcats were placed in MLK’s district, which set up key league games between the twins.
“He’s a left forward and loves to cut in,” Ben said. “I’m always sitting there at midfield and may have to come in and two-foot him if I need to.”
This all leaves Saliba with a fine line to walk, literally. She trekked back and forth Wednesday between the Valor and MLK games at Richard Siegel Soccer Complex.
“For the most part, we show up to these games with friends on both teams, our sons are out there playing with kids they’ve played with since they were six, and it’s all been very friendly and cordial,” Saliba said. “You want to see your kids play their best and you hope for a good game. You hope for good individual performances, but we’re not married to the outcome.”
How do her sons act the night after playing each other?
“It’s civil. There’s a lot of smack talk, but it’s civil. I think they both respect each other as players,” she said. “It never gets ugly I’m happy to say.”
A state championship meeting might have put that to the test.
But the boys keep a good perspective.
“Going into the season we both knew one of us would go home. It’s of course sad (about MLK),” Sam said. “I was just fortunate to be able to keep playing this time. I went to MLK’s feeder middle school for a long time. I know guys on that team, they’re great guys and I wish nothing but the best for them.”