It’s the cornerstone and purpose of all United States service academies.
In addition to teaching young men how to serve their country with distinction, it also teaches brotherhood and looking after the man beside you.
Coincidentally, at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., a pair of actual brothers have taken that to heart as they both have banded around Navy’s men’s soccer program en route to making it the class of the Patriot League (8-0-0 in conference play). On Friday, Navy will bring its program to PPL Park for the second annual Army-Navy Cup (7 p.m., purchase tickets). With them will be Thomas and Mark Shiiba, both undergrads at the Academy who hail from Swarthmore and played their high school soccer at nearby perennial Central League powerhouse, Strath Haven.
Thomas, 20 is a sophomore forward who appeared in 11 matches this season for Navy, while Mark, 18 is a freshman newcomer with nine appearances looking to take in the experience of being on the field at PPL Park. With the stadium being so close to home, the Shiiba brothers, who said their family have been season ticket holders to Union matches are overjoyed at the chance to play in a place they never thought would come to the Philadelphia region.
“It’s super exciting going home and having a chance to play in front of friends and family on that field,” said Thomas. “When the Union brought professional soccer to the area and built PPL Park, it was super exciting for all of us. I have been to a ton of Union games over the years so to get a chance to play there this year is absolutely amazing.
Mark echoed his brother’s sentiments and added:
“It’s really something special, something that not a lot of brothers get to actually experience. Last year, I was in the stands rooting for my brother and Navy and this season I’ll be on the field with him.”
Although Navy has been a formidable foe in Patriot League play, Army is no slouch as they will enter this one also undefeated in the conference (6-0-1) and looking to make a statement in a game that has long been a rivalry, but just started to take heat since having its matches hosted under the lights on the Chester waterfront. Navy, which hasn’t lost a match since Sept. 17 enters this one on a goal scoring tear, averaging two goals a game in that same 11-match span.
However, records and stats aren’t harped on as much as one might think.
“Our coach [Navy’s Dave Brandt] doesn’t talk about it too much,” Thomas said. “For him, it’s about making sure we played the right way and as a team. He always talks about team success and winning in that fashion.”
Brandt, a Pennsylvania native who attended graduate school at Temple, preaches brotherhood, so it was only natural that his recruits the last two seasons have had the same last name. Explaining how much of a hotbed, the Great Philadelphia Region has always been for acquiring top soccer talent, Brandt conveyed his admiration in keeping that alive in the raw talent he has in the Shiiba brothers.
“Philadelphia has been a soccer-rich area for a long time,” Brandt said. “With [the U.S. Naval Academy] being only two-and-a-half hours away it is certainly fertile ground for us to recruit
in. And also with me being a Pennsylvania native, it is familiar territory In Thomas we have a very gifted attacking player. His feet are as quick as anybody at any level. Mark is a defender, but definitely has a good bit of Thomas in him in the fact that he is an attack-minded player. He is only a freshman and hasn't gotten that much playing time, but I strongly believe he will do very well here.”
Which not only could mean more years of success for Navy’s soccer program, but the continued development of two brothers that could make the annual Army-Navy Cup a must-see for quite some time.
“Coming here was a win-win,” Thomas said. “I get to play soccer for coach Brandt, whose resume speaks for itself, I am lucky that I get to play on this team with my brother and for the next two years of my career and three for Mark we get to play back at home in front of family and friends on a familiar field. I don’t think it gets better than that.”
Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org