The Pagano brothers’ inseparable relationship built over 15 years of football

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Syracuse men’s soccer head coach Ian McIntyre called up Antonino Pagano in the early spring of last year. He wanted to end Antonino’s engagement as soon as he knew Syracuse was the place Antonino had always wanted to play in college. McIntyre knew Antonino had the same desire as his brother, current SU freshman Francesco Pagano. With the whole family seated in their Manlius living room, Antonino told them that McIntyre offered him a scholarship to Syracuse.

“Everything we talked about we thought about when we were younger,” said Antonino. “When the time came, I just couldn’t believe it.”

Antonino and his brother have played football together for 15 years – and despite a year playing for different teams, Francesco with the Orange and Antonino have completed high school – they will both be on the pitch next fall for Syracuse. .

But their path to Orange began before recruiting. The Paganos have been going to League soccer games since the boys were in elementary school. They would arrive an hour earlier to attend the warm-ups. First, they did it to idolize the players. Years later, they went to watch the player’s pre-game routines to imitate themselves in youth football. They were seated together behind the Syracuse bench in the first two rows. And after the game, Antonino tried to speak with some of the coaches.

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Antonino and Francesco started their playing careers with Soccer Central, a youth team from Rochester, when they were four and five, respectively. They started playing together three years later with the now-defunct club and have played for the same club team, except for this season, every year since. Francesco’s graduation from Syracuse meant it was time for Antonino to lead the dominant football team at Fayetteville-Manlius High School, a school that has lost just one game since Antonino returned in 2018. .

Over the course of their 15 years of play, they’ve built a relationship that Antonino describes as “close”. He said he was closer to Francesco than anyone else in the world. “There is never a moment when we lose sight of each other,” said Antonino.

Francesco even helped Antonino with his psychology class last year. Antonino was not used to all the work the class brought in, so Francesco spent part of his nights helping his brother.

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Maya Goosmann | Director of design

“It’s the strongest relationship you can get,” former high school teammate Ziad Abdul-Malak said. “You would think they were twins. They know each other so well. “

Now the Pagano brothers sit together and watch movies – mostly comedies – while making jokes and talking about whatever comes to their mind. Antonino is a Manchester City fan and Francesco of Manchester United, Abdul-Malak said. There has always been a natural rivalry between the two.

At FM, head coach Jeff Hammond has noticed constant frustration with the brothers, especially with Francesco. He said Francesco wanted to score a hat trick in every game which led him to try and take the game on his own shoulders. The brothers expect to do everything perfectly, and unlike other children, Hammond said the Pagano brothers have struggled to let go of their mistakes.

But the brothers use different styles of play that complement each other. Francesco is a “big, strong and powerful striker”. McIntyre described him as playing with his heart on his sleeve. Antonino is more technical, Hammond said. He would make new moves that would impress Abdul-Malak, now a midfielder at Collège Le Moyne. Seeing either Pagano inside the box gave Abdul-Malak confidence during games. He knew he could kick the ball inside, and nine times out of ten, one of his brothers would finish or shoot on target.

“I can just put him on top knowing he will get there every time, beat the kid and finish him,” said Antonino.

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Maya Goosmann | Director of design

Because they were two of New York’s top Section III athletes, Hammond said they elevated the practice to a level he had never seen before during his time with FM. The two had high expectations of each other, which turned training into a “battle,” Hammond said. Abdul-Malak noted that during some practices they visibly went crazy for each other, blaming each other for their game. But the team knew that was just the Pagano brothers’ way of motivating each other. Scoring more goals has never been a competition, but they each wanted to score a goal, Antonino said.

During the summer, the Pagano brothers would run up the stairs and go through a big bag of soccer balls while training every day. They started with passing drills, then started playing long balls, juggling, working the keys and ending with shooting drills. It was Francesco’s way of showing Antonino what a pre-season routine at Syracuse would look like and showing him what McIntyre expected of his players mentally and physically.

There is no jealousy. They want the best for each other, ”Hammond said.

While the Paganos harassed each other, their reactions were not the same when someone else got involved. In a game against East Syracuse-Minoa Central High School, Antonino received a heavy blow from an opposing player on a bad tackle in the dying seconds of a five-goal win by Fayetteville-Manlius. Francesco chased the ES-M player and shouted, “Never touch my brother.” Antonino said Francesco’s “big brother instincts” took over.

“They can hit each other all day, but if someone touches (either one) they’re going to have to respond,” Hammond said.

Despite spending the fall of 2021 on separate teams, the family have always tried to be at every home game. On the night of Francesco’s first collegiate goal, Fayetteville-Manlius had a 6-0 lead over Corcoran High School. On the previous Saturday, Antonino scored a game-winning goal with two and a half minutes left to beat Liverpool and maintain FMHS ‘winning streak. He landed a high kick and unleashed a left-footed shot that left Hammond in disbelief.

It’s the strongest relationship you can get. You would think they were twins. They know each other so well.

Ziad Abdul-Malak, former footballer from Fayetteville-Manlius

Hammond told Antonino at halftime against Corcoran he would only play for about 10-15 minutes in the second half, but after eight Antonino returned to the bench. With his parents and older brother Joey in the stands, Hammond told Antonino he could leave to watch the Syracuse game against Binghamton.

Later that night, Hammond received a text from Antonino saying the family had arrived at the League football stadium just two minutes before the goal. Giona Leibold shot a cross on the other side of Francesco. Antonino saw the movement of the ball from the stands and knew he was going to score. He had done it so many times before; the ball just had to properly touch Francesco’s right foot. He did, and after the game Francesco gave his family hugs and pointed fingers at his brothers in the stands.

“Every time we play together it’s special, because you don’t want to take it for granted, because eventually it will go away,” said Antonino. “So cherish him every moment. “

Contact Antoine: [email protected]


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