By Tatyana Breitkreuz
There’s no denying soccer is in their blood. The dark-haired brothers compete together as starting forwards for the University of Northwestern – St. Paul. Chris Cleope, a senior computer science major, and Mark Cleope, a freshman electronic media communications major, discovered the game of soccer at a young age. Living the majority of their childhood years in Manila, Philippines, as missionary kids and attending their school Faith Academy, the brothers gained athletic skills from their school’s soccer team as well as a local soccer camp called Hat Trick.
“There was one person who taught me a lot about the sport and his name was Claud,” said Chris Cleope. “He taught every single skill possible when I was younger and even challenged people to beat him at his own game…stuff like that made me try even harder.”
As youth, soccer wasn’t the only means of connectedness for the Cleopes. Being the two youngest out of four siblings, including sister Lauren Cleope, who played on the University of Northwestern women’s soccer team, Chris Cleope and Mark Cleope have a strong bond.
“We are quite close,” Chris Cleope agreed. “We went to the same high school and now college. We tell each other basically everything, and we can make each other laugh with our simple dance moves and our secret jokes.”
Of course there were typical sibling arguments, but as Chris Cleope explained, “That’s what brothers do.” In college, if there are any arguments, they’re mainly about miscommunication on the field.
The Cleopes both began attending Northwestern this fall, as Chris Cleope is a transfer from the University of Dubuque and Mark Cleope is a freshman. Greg Wheaton, the head men’s soccer coach at Northwestern, was excited to have them both join the team. He had been attempting to recruit Chris Cleope when he was a freshman because of his sister Lauren Cleope, who had played for the Northwestern women’s soccer team a few years before.
“As Mark was coming around, I recruited him pretty hard,” said Wheaton. “Mark really liked it and felt right at home. Chris then came around and transferred to be with his brother. I won both in a sense because I had been trying to get Chris.”
Lauren Cleope is one of her brothers’ biggest fans. It brings her joy to see them pursue the same sport that has been such an influential part of her own life.
“We all have the same passion for the game,” Lauren Cleope said. “It’s super sweet to see Chris and Mark playing collegiate soccer together where I started that Cleope legacy at UNW. I love that both of my younger brothers are playing at my alma mater, but also that they are continuing to step on that pitch every day, playing for Jesus and winning the testimony.”
Collegiate soccer was a transition for the two sibling athletes. While high school had fewer practices and was not as physical, DIII college soccer is more competitive but also more fun. Whether it’s competition of who can score more goals or celebrating with each other after games, the Cleopes love having each other around.
“Practice is always the best part of the day because I can just come out and have fun with the team: it’s the best sport there is,” said Chris Cleope.
“It’s fun playing together, because of the chemistry,” Mark Cleope explained. “That’s what makes us good. It’s fun to play around with someone you can have fun and mess around with.”
Currently, the brothers are both starters for the Northwestern men’s soccer team this fall. When playing as forwards or midfielders, the Cleope brothers show to be strong players. Chris Cleope spoke of his brother’s strengths, saying that he has good pacing with the ball, has a good jumping ability, has an accurate vision of the field and can anticipate where others are on the field, even when he’s not looking. Mark Cleope stated that his brother can dribble well, is very skillful with the ball and can win every ball in the air.
“Mark is a strong, smart forward,” said Wheaton. “He’s super hardworking, competitive, and technically strong. Chris is a gifted player, athletically and technically. He is a pretty dynamic player.” Wheaton mentioned that he was blessed to have the brothers on the team.
Within the first month of the fall 2016 season, Chris Cleope scored three goals with an impressive six assists, and new-to-collegiate-sports Mark Cleope has already claimed two goals and two assists for the team. Though the brothers are each talented in their own, unique ways, they both admit they couldn’t be the athlete they are without the other.
“[Chris] is there when I need help, and he’s always caring on and off the field,” said Mark Cleope. “He’s smart, encouraging and tells me to do my homework. He’s making me a better player every day by challenging me and having fun.”
“He makes me want to play the game,” added Chris about his brother. Chris also explained that they challenge one another to score goals, for if one scores, the other feels more determined to score as well.
While having a sibling compete alongside you on the same team isn’t rare, Chris and Mark Cleope’s ability to get along, execute plays and score with the help of one another are what make this brotherhood truly special. It’s evident that with their love of soccer comes a greater love for each other.