ST. PETERSBURG — If it wasn’t for his twin brother, Ian Antley still might be working as a wine and liquor sales representative. And if it wasn’t for Ian, Conner might never have returned to soccer after he dropped out of Mercer.
They definitely wouldn’t be defenders on the same professional team.
But at various points, one Antley twin motivated the other to reignite his career. They played together on Georgia youth teams and then overlapped for three seasons at Mercer. Their paths diverged at times, but they recently reconnected with the Rowdies.
Ian signed a 25-day contract in July, followed by another deal for the remainder of the season. He has appeared in one game while being eligible as a substitute for three. Conner, who joined the Rowdies before the 2021 season, has appeared in 21 matches this year, starting 19.
“I don’t think there’s anybody that knows my game or understands my game more than he does,” Conner said, “and vice versa.”
Before July, the only twins Rowdies coach Neill Collins had ever coached were his 5-year-old sons. The team needed another player for training, and Ian was available after his original 2022 contract — with South Georgia Tormenta FC — didn’t work out. Collins didn’t think there’d be a roster opportunity. Ian was OK with that.
The brothers carpooled to training sessions for over a month. Ian stayed at Conner’s apartment. On one July drive, Conner predicted the Rowdies would offer a temporary contract because of injuries. Collins called with an offer later that day.
Neither twin imagined this scenario growing up. Their soccer careers started with the Coweta Cannons. Then, when the Cannons lost to the Peachtree City Lazers by eight or 10 goals, their father pulled the twins off the team and registered them with Peachtree City.
But they knew the most prestigious local teams hovered around Atlanta. They transitioned to the Concorde Fire, where Brian Moore, their coach, liked the pair as attacking outside backs who could creep to positions higher upfield if needed. One time, Concorde’s keeper earned an early red card. Moore adjusted by overloading the right side and leaving just the twins on the left.
“It’s hard to break down two people (on defense) that’ve played together their whole lives and play off each other really, really well without even talking,” Ian said.
Ian and Conner finished first and second, respectively, in goals their senior year at East Coweta High School. The first year at Mercer didn’t go smoothly for Conner, though. The Bears lost 14 of 20 games. His GPA tanked. In December, he dropped out and took a gap semester, registering last-minute for fall 2014 classes at Kennesaw State. Playing soccer became an afterthought.
During his year off, Conner still attended Ian’s Mercer games. Head coach Brad Ruzzo said one twin playing without the other was perhaps the “best thing” that could have happened. Ian couldn’t rely on the comfort of his brother in the locker room. In 2017, Conner’s redshirt senior season (when Ian was Mercer’s graduate assistant), he experienced the same thing.
Conner played with the Seattle Sounders FC Under-23 team before South Georgia Tormenta in 2018 and ‘19. He earned USL League One’s defender of the year that second season. Ian also gained experience with the Sounders’ U-23 team, as well as the Birmingham Hammers, before leaving the sport for a sales job.
Watching Conner’s Tormenta games convinced Ian he could still play professionally. Ian built toward playing shape and signed with USL League One’s Richmond Kickers for the 2020 season. But in their first game the next year, Ian’s right knee buckled when he kicked the ball out of bounds. X-rays later showed ACL and meniscus tears.
That set his professional career’s restart back again. Ian needed another surgery about six months into his recovery after the suture loosened. It tested his patience, but he tuned into Conner’s games with the Rowdies — at that point his new team — and traveled to Al Lang Stadium.
“I know almost all the players, because I was down here almost every weekend,” Ian said. “It was probably one of the only things I could do.”
The way that year unfolded makes the contracts and reunions since July seem “unbelievable,” Ian said. A few nights ago, he and his wife scrolled through photos from the past year on his phone. Some are from Atlanta, where he attended the Rowdies’ road game in March as a fan. Others were from home matches that followed.
“Now I’m warming up with the guys,” Ian said. “It’s just so surreal.”
vs. Orange County SC, 7:30 Saturday
Al Lang Stadium