By Rob Rose
On Oct. 25, 2017, brothers and teammates on the men’s soccer team, Jose Aguinaga ’18 and sophomore back Sergio Aguinaga, connected for a game-winning goal at Iona. That goal played a big role in the team finishing the season No. 2 in the MAAC, but it almost never happened. The brothers nearly ended up playing for conference-rival Iona, if not for the guidance of a former Bronc.
Jose Aguinaga, who is now Rider’s all-time leader in assists with 32 during his career, was born in Madrid, Spain. In 2014, he started his search for a college soccer program in the U.S. His teammate at the Real Madrid Youth Academy and hometown friend, former Rider midfielder Adrien Huss ’16, asked Jose Aguinaga where he would attend college.
“I was pretty much committed to Iona when [Huss] asked where I was going and I told him Iona,” said Jose Aguinaga. “[Huss] said ‘No way, they are in our conference. We need to talk to my coach and try to get you to Rider.’”
Huss emailed Head Coach Charlie Inverso and the recruiting and signing process was complete in 10 days.
“I got an email from [Huss] that his teammate was looking to come to America and he was deeply involved with another school, and it was not going to be good for us if he goes there,” said Inverso.
Trusting friends and family is a key reason why the brothers ended up in Lawrenceville, despite their hometown of Madrid being 3,620 miles from New Jersey and led Jose Aguinaga to a professional soccer career.
“I trusted [Huss’] opinion,” said Inverso. “If he was playing for [Real Madrid] as a youngster, we figured he had to be pretty good.”
Inverso’s faith was rewarded almost immediately, and league championships weren’t far behind. Aguinaga was named to the 2014 MAAC All-Rookie team, and led the team with five assists as a forward.
In 2015 and 2016, he was pivotal in Rider’s back-to-back MAAC championship squads, twice earning First-Team league accolades in the process and leading the MAAC with 23 points in 2015.
The former Real Madrid academy prospect was named Preseason MAAC Player of the Year prior to the 2017 season and once again received First Team All-MAAC honors and was named a United Soccer Coaches Second Team All-American in his last year at Rider.
When it came time to select a university for Sergio Aguinaga, there was only one option. Although he never stepped foot on Rider’s campus, the Broncs’ left back trusted his brother and followed him to Lawrenceville.
“I knew [Rider] won two MAAC Championships and my brother was on the team,” said Sergio Aguinaga about his decision to join the Broncs in 2017. “We talked on FaceTime and my brother showed me pictures, but I never came to the U.S. or Rider.”
The 2017 season was the first time the brothers shared the field together, but not the first time they played for the same team.
While in Spain, the duo played for the youth academy teams of two Spanish La Liga clubs, the premier Spanish soccer league, Rayo Vallecano and Getafe Football Club (FC).
“It’s funny because Sergio has pretty much followed me wherever I go,” said Jose Aguinaga. “Hopefully we can end up on the [New York] Red Bulls together.”
Following the 2017 season, Jose Aguinaga began the rigorous pre-draft process in preparation for the 2018 Major League Soccer (MLS) SuperDraft. To be able to make it to practices with the New York Red Bulls’ Premier Development League team and have a chance to get drafted, Jose Aguinaga had to hustle before his spikes even touched the field.
“I would take the train for an hour then take an Uber from there to the facility,” said Jose Aguinaga. “I did that for two to three weeks and it was hard, but it was worth it in the end.”
To pay for the train and Uber rides back-and-forth to practice, he worked in the Student Recreation Center in addition to starring on the soccer field and earning All-MAAC Academic Team honors.
“That is why I definitely think he is going to make it up to the [New York Red Bulls’] first team,” said Inverso. “He does not give up.”
When the first round of the 2018 MLS SuperDraft began, so did the nerves for Jose Aguinaga. He was following the draft on his phone for the first two rounds but, after he wasn’t selected on day one of the draft, he was feeling down.
Rounds three and four took place two days later. He decided not to look at his phone and headed to Daly Dining Hall with some teammates.
“I figured it wasn’t going to happen so I said ‘OK whatever,’” said Jose Aguinaga. “I was eating at Daly’s with my teammates and one of them said ‘Red Bulls draft Jose Aguinaga.’ I thought he was joking until I looked at my phone and saw [the New York Red Bulls] tweeted they drafted me and I was really excited. I called my mom and talked to my family. It was a really happy moment.”
After being selected in the fourth round, No. 85 overall of the 2018 MLS SuperDraft on Jan. 21, he signed with the New York Red Bulls II, the United Soccer League (USL) affiliate of the New York Red Bulls, on March 15. The forward started making an impact right away.
On April 19, the Rider alum launched a missile past the Tampa Bay Rowdie’s goalkeeper and earned the Week 5 USL Goal of the Week.
A few months later on Aug. 21, Jose Aguinaga blasted a strike off the post that beat the goalkeeper of North Carolina FC. This goal gained the forward even more national exposure when it earned the No. 4 spot on the SportsCenter Top 10 that night on ESPN.
Although the brothers are on separate teams this season, Jose Aguinaga has reconnected with someone who is like a brother to him. He and Florian Valot ’15 were roommates while they were on the men’s soccer team together and now play for the same organization.
“At the end-of-the-year banquet when [Valot] graduated, Jose started tearing up talking about how he wouldn’t have made it without [Valot] talking to him, because he was so homesick,” said Inverso. “I still think they are best friends.”
Valot spent time with the New York Red Bulls II team as well before earning the call up to the MLS squad on Dec. 20, 2017. Valot made his MLS debut with the Red Bulls on March 24 and had registered three goals and five assists before a torn ACL during training in July ended his season early.
For Sergio Aguinaga, despite his brother leaving, he still has four fellow countrymen in the locker room with him. Graduate student back Borja Ares, freshman midfielder Guillermo Pavia Vidal, sophomore forward Pablo DeCastro and sophomore goalkeeper Pablo Gatinois all hail from Spain. Sergio Aguinaga and DeCastro played against each other in Spain and Gatinois and Sergio Aguinaga were teammates at Getafe FC.
After playing primarily as a left back last season, Sergio Aguinaga is taking on a slightly different role as a sophomore. With the Broncs in need of scoring chances with their all-time assists leader gone, the left-footed Sergio Aguinaga will be playing up as a midfielder at times this season.
“He is really more of an attacking-minded player,” said Inverso. “We are experimenting with pushing him higher up the field.”
For Inverso, coaching brothers is nothing new. The head coach has had multiple sets of brothers on teams during his time at Rider.
“I think I have been lucky enough to coach 12 sets of brothers,” said Inverso. “I think coaching brothers is fun. It feels good because a player wouldn’t recommend his brother come to a place where he didn’t have a halfway decent time.”
Like a lot of families in Spain, soccer is a way of life for the Aguinagas. Despite the six-hour time difference between Spain and New Jersey, the family streamed any games they could watch online while the brothers were playing.
Following the game-winning goal against Iona, their father, Miguel Angel Aguinaga, was so excited, he took a photo of the screen as the brothers embraced each other during the celebration.
Despite not playing on the same team anymore, the brothers speak daily.
“I am going to miss him, but he is 40 minutes away,” said Sergio Aguinaga. “Even though he is not at Rider, I always talk to him.”
Even if they never get to share the field again, the brothers will always have the memory of the game-winning goal they connected to score against Iona. On the play, Sergio Aguinaga sent a pass from the right side of the penalty area across the net to Jose Aguinaga, who blasted a shot into the right corner of the goal.
“I remember it was like he was waiting for me,” said Jose Aguinaga. “We saw each other and that is when I realized he was the one who passed me the ball. We hugged and it was pretty emotional, it was a good moment.”
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