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North St. Paul's Star Soccer Tandem Are A Perfect Match

Updated: 10/16/2013 5:52 PM
Created: 10/16/2013 5:48 PM KSTP.com
By: Chris Long

Click the video link on this page to see this story as it aired on 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS

In boys soccer this season, the state's top goalscorer and the state's assist leader are teammates for North Saint Paul.

That's not all they have in common.

"I'm older by...," Justin Oliver begins.

"...seven minutes," Tyler Oliver completes the sentence.

Asked what their birthday is - "September 8th," they respond in perfect unison.

The seniors are identical twins, who are both elite soccer players.

"When we were babies," Tyler laughs. "My mom would dress Justin in blue and dress me in pink.  She'd write "T" in pink toenail polish on one of my toes.  He'd get a blue "J" on his.  Just to make sure if something happened they'd still be there."

Tuesday night was a big night for the Oliver boys. First, they helped engineer a win over East Ridge in the section final - avenging last year's playoff loss to East Ridge - which sends North Saint Paul to the State Tournament.

In the game, Justin scored the last goal in a come-from-behind rally just hours after he was named the "Mr. Soccer" award winner as the top senior player in the state.

Tyler can certainly score, evidenced by his 18 goals this season - good for 4th-best in the state currently - but his gift is as a playmaker.  His 28 assists lead the state, nearly doubling the runner-up.  He's also in contention for the state lead in all-time career assists.

He modestly defers some of the credit to his twin brother.

"I give 'em to him, and he puts them away almost every single time," Tyler says.

For his part, Justin's 34 goals also lead the state. He's ten goals clear of the next-highest scorer.  His season total stands as the second-best for a season in state history, and he's still playing.

Rivaling his brother's modesty, "It just happens," Justin says. "Certain games I get more opportunities and he's been the one passing."

It hasn't always been Tyler passing and Justin scoring, though.

"Freshman year I couldn't score to save my life," Justin says. "Tyler was the one putting all the goals.  Same thing sophomore year.  But all of the sudden last year and this year it's just flip flopped."

He does credit his brother's deft passing touch, too.

"Part of it is, I miss him a lot more when he's open than when he misses me," Justin says.

Tyler agrees they've settled into the respective roles perfectly. "He finishes a lot better than me," he says, smiling. "If I could score half as many chances we'd be even, but I miss at least 75% of the passes he gives me."

Don't believe everything they say.  Tyler truly is a superb passer and Justin is a clinical finisher, but their strengths are only the top layer of both players' very well-rounded games.

The synergy between the Oliver boys makes sense if only for the fact they've been playing sports with - or against - each other their entire lives.

"There's so much chemistry we've built up over the years.  If someone else was playing up top I'd be so lost," Tyler says.

"We're so much better together than apart," Justin admits.  "We're both good soccer players but being together just puts up above."

They're a force combined on the soccer field, and they've grown up having a best friend around all the time.

But there are some trade-offs to being a twin.

"You don't have a lot of individuality sometimes," Tyler explains. "There's a lot of getting grouped together. If one of us does something wrong, instead of one of us getting yelled at it'll probably be both.  Sometimes that works out for the better, but you don't always have your own individuality. It does have pros and cons."

On the field, the relationship is mostly a benefit.  Although there have been times their competitiveness has boiled over.  Both admit they can be combustible as individuals as well as toward each other. 

They were both able to laugh retelling a story of a fistfight they engaged in with each other years ago on the bench at hockey practice.

"They had to split us up to skate our punishment laps," Tyler recalled.  "He started on one side, I was on the other."

For the most part, the Oliver boys direct their competitiveness at their opposition.  Aside from their rare - if notably intense - conflicts they're tremendously supportive of one other.

"Sure, there's the competitiveness that we both drive each other," Justin says. "But we both want each other to succeed more than anything else. If I got an award, I'd rather have Tyler get it."

"There's competitiveness in everything. It doesn't matter what it is. I don't want him to do bad.  I want him to do his best," he pauses and laughs, sheepishly admitting, "...and then maybe I do a little bit better."

What about the "special powers" some sets of twins claim to have?  Do the Olivers possess some sort of mythical telekinetic twins bond? 

You bet they do.

"There's a joke when we play hockey," Justin laughs. "Everyone's like 'Ok guys, no talking in your heads'."

They both acknowledge plenty of occasions when being part of a two-for-one on the field has come in handy.

"Growing up in rec league," Tyler explains. "Say one of us had a yellow card and maybe the refs aren't the best at knowing us. If he's about to get his second yellow card (which would result in an ejection), I'll be 'No, no... I had that other one earlier.'  That way both of us are still in the game."

As their reputation has grown on the Twin Cities soccer scene, most opponents and officials they encounter already know who they are before they take the field. But they still sometimes can take advantage of the potential for confusion.

"There have been games even this year," he explains. "The center back will look at me... then look away... see Justin over there and be like, 'How did you just get from that spot to that spot?!  I didn't even see you move!'  Then I'm like... 'We're twins'."

The boys say they'd like to continue playing with each other in college, but they are willing split up if they determine it's best for both of them as individuals.

Either way, they're aware of the good fortune they've had to grow up together.

"It's the coolest part about it," Tyler beams. "We'll always have it.  You hear people wishing how they could play with siblings - we get to have that every single game.  We know going into a situation we'll be together.  There's always comfortability. There's always us two there."

They've been visited by close to two dozen Division I soccer coaches, and expect to start working toward choosing a college once their season ends.

Thanks to their big night Tuesday, it won't end any sooner than the State Tournament.

Seeding for the state tournament will be announced Saturday morning.  The State Quarterfinals begin next Wednesday and run through Friday.


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