by Ian Katan
MINNEAPOLIS — Black and gray smoke drifts through the air on a warm May evening. Crow-calls fill the stadium, and the familiar chants of the supporter section rise in time with the drum, “Come on youuu Crows.” Another Minneapolis City SC game is underway.
Former City midfielder Rory O’Driscoll walks through the gates and finds a seat in the crowded stands, drawn by both his appreciation for his former club, and to support his older brother, veteran midfielder Aidan O’Driscoll.
The siblings share a deep affinity for the sport, and have been connected by soccer since their earliest days. In neighborhood parks, their backyard, at recess, on family vacations — it didn’t matter. They never stopped playing.
“We brought a soccer ball pretty much everywhere we went,” Aidan remembered. “We’d go visit family in Ireland every year when we were younger, and we’d always bring a ball or buy a ball when we got there.”
Their grandfather’s house in Dublin had a large green space where local kids would play, and the visiting brothers couldn’t resist joining in. “It was the best, because obviously you didn’t really get that here,” Aidan continued. Growing up in South Minneapolis, there were always kids in the park, but they were focused on football or baseball. In Ireland, “it was only soccer.”
The pickup games were, “really competitive, actually.” Rory added, “There were some fights, [it was a] different culture.”
Perhaps inspired by the intensity of the Irish game, playing against each other at home was equally competitive. “If him and I were going against each other, it usually ended up in fighting,” Rory said. “I remember going to Washburn and you smacked the [expletive] out of me… just for pulling on your arm or something.”
“Fake news,” Aidan disagreed, sliding his bag of chocolate chip cookies across the table as a peace offering. “Gotta make up for when I smacked you.”
Despite their rivalry, the duo still found time to connect over their love of the game. “As much as it was like ‘I want to beat him’ at times when we’d play against each other,” Rory said, “he’s a role model and somebody that I want to be like. On the soccer path, he taught me a lot, he pushed me a lot.”
When Aidan left home for Luther College in 2015, Rory and their parents drove down for games in Decorah. When Rory left for the University of New Hampshire three years later, Aidan and their parents flew out for games in Durham. As each made the jump to collegiate soccer, they appreciated the other’s willingness to serve as a sounding board, breaking down performances and discussing what went well and what could be improved.
Whether shooting texts back and forth after a game, debriefing matches on the phone for 45 minutes, or eating dinner together when they were in the same state, the O’Driscolls made time to support each other. “We’re just constantly chatting about the game and our games,” Aidan said.
“I think it’s just been ingrained in us, too,” he continued. “You grow up around the game, so it’s just like second nature as well. It’s this form of support, but it’s also just like eating and breathing.”
Having a sibling with the same interest in soccer was a huge benefit, they agreed. Aidan remembered that whenever he would train as a kid, Rory would train, too. And as their childhood friend groups grew less interested in soccer, always having somebody to practice with was invaluable. “Literally added so much motivation into my life,” Rory said. “Bluntly, it was really, really helpful having someone like that on a similar path.”
This closeness is what drew them to play for Minneapolis City, together, while home from school. Aidan joined the Crows in 2018, and worked his way up from the U23 team (predecessor to the Futures)’s roster, to become a mainstay in the first-team’s midfield. By the time Rory was looking for competitive summer-soccer, it was almost a given that he would join his older brother at City.
“For a long time I was Aidan’s younger brother. Still am,” Rory joked. “City fit the bill pretty perfectly for what I wanted out of the summer, and still be able to get gametime and develop. I think having him there, and knowing what the club was like, was just another reason to play there.”
Matt VanBenschoten, City’s current general manager — and head coach at the time — saw their connection. “There’s a quiet leadership to both of them,” he said. “Both of them have very, very high soccer IQs… There’s definitely a tight-knit bond between them.”
An injury to Rory derailed what would have been the O’Driscoll’s linkup-season, with the younger brother not wanting to risk his fitness last summer, ahead of his final year at UNH. As a result, they’ve only-once been in a matchday 18, together. The two joined forces in midfield for a 7-0 demolition of Union Dubuque, in the second leg of an away-and-home friendly series, at the end of the 2019 season. “Only game we’ve ever played on the same field,” Rory remembered. “It was really fun.”
Even though they played just that lone game as teammates, the O’Driscolls share huge appreciation for their hometown club. High-quality players, committed coaches, and dedicated fans drew the brothers back home each season. “Not too many summer league games you’ll go to and there’ll be smoke flying in the air and drums going the whole game,” Rory said. “It’s got good community backing it,” Aidan agreed. “It makes you want to come back.”
Both O’Driscolls possess evident talent on the pitch, whether they’re playing together or not, but the pair have also maintained a sense of humility off the field. Despite their accomplishments, they attribute their success to the people around them. “I wouldn’t say we’re different to anyone else who’s worked their way up,” Aidan said. “We wouldn’t be half the player, either of us is, without the people around us,” Rory added.
And one of the most important supporters for each player? You guessed it. Their brother.
That support was present in one of their biggest moments of success: Rory being taken in the third round of the 2023 MLS SuperDraft by Nashville SC. On a snowy Minnesotan night, a poorly timed trip to Chipotle meant Rory heard his name called in the car, surrounded by Aidan and their friends.
“Aidan just screamed my name,” Rory smiled. “It was just special to have three of my best friends and people I love most in the world around me.”
The group brought their food back to Aidan’s apartment, joined by parents and friends, for an evening of celebration. “I couldn’t eat,” Rory laughed. “I was just over the moon. I was almost in shock, kind of freaking out in the best way possible.”
Unfortunately, Nashville ultimately declined to offer Rory a contract, and he returned to Minneapolis. It was just Aidan and Rory at their house, as their parents were traveling in Ireland, and the brothers were able to reconnect amidst a challenging period of unpredictability.
“Having Aidan around to talk it out was big. Talking through the frustration of that moment and him helping me get my mind right so that I can focus on the next opportunity,” Rory said. “Having somebody there to spit out my thoughts to helped me out and was big in that time.”
“It was super high to super low. More than anything else I just felt for Rory when he had to come home and there were a few weeks of uncertainty,” Aidan continued. “But it was nice hanging out. I felt very strongly that there was going to be another opportunity for him.”
Aidan was right. Rory signed with MNUFC2 not long after, and has logged just under 1,000 minutes for the Twosies, starting in all but one of Minnesota’s 12 MLSNEXT Pro games this season.
Rory was right, too, about his brother’s success. “Aidan’s done ridiculous things in college,” he said, of his brother’s litany of honors, including an American Rivers Conference Offensive MVP, two-time DIII Scholar All-American, DIII Third Team All-American, two-time All-Region, and two-time All-Conference First Team. “And what he’s done for City over six, seven years and the reputation he’s been able to carve out for himself. It’s really impressive. It’s great to see him succeeding.”
Aidan’s success with the Crows is ongoing. “It’s been fun to see a couple generations of Minneapolis City players,” Aidan remarked, now one of three senior-team players left from the 2019 squad. “I’ve played with some of the originals, and also this new crop of youngsters who are going to be very good in the next few years.”
The pair don’t see their relationship with soccer, or with each other, ever changing much. “Twenty years from now, we’ll still be watching the Prem and chatting about who’s faster,” they said. No matter if it’s arguing over their favorite teams or catching an MLS game in each other’s future home cities, soccer will remain a foundational part of the relationship. “I think as we get older, it just brings us together more,” said Aidan.
Their competitiveness is also something that will never end, from disagreements over who is stronger, to whether Arsenal or Chelsea is better, or whose soccer-playing children will be faster. “Yeah, but my kid will have way bigger calves,” Rory teased. But what else would you expect from two brothers with a lifetime of sparring against each other?
And they have a simple piece of advice for players looking to find their own success: “Get a brother two-and-a-half-years younger than you.”