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A bond of brothers

With their wavy, dark shoulder-length hair, they look like brothers. They even act like they are related.

Freshmen Rodrigo Hidalgo and Christian Jimenez of the USF men’s soccer team have been playing soccer together longer than most people spend at USF.

Soccer America rated USF’s 2004 recruiting class No. 5 in the nation and these two freshman are a big reason why. Hidalgo was the No. 5 recruit in the country and Jimenez was No. 14.

Neither of the two, who have been playing together for five years, are short on things to say.

When they were younger, the two had to work hard at becoming the soccer players they are today without the support of a regular family.

“We’re basically brothers, if you look at it the way I do,” Hidalgo said. “We’ve been each other’s families for five years. We haven’t been that kid that grows right next to your mommy or your daddy. We’ve been more of that kid that will be there for the rest of your life.”

“It is different growing up in a Hispanic family,” Jimenez added. “Usually Hispanic families are real close together, but I guess we’re a little different.

“My father treated me really badly, and in the end I never had the confidence to just talk to him as a friend, and it just affected me in a certain way. I never really had anyone else besides (Hidalgo).”

As they grew older, Hidalgo and Jimenez formed their own family with those who remained willing to lend a helping hand.

“We have similarities with our families,” Hidalgo said. “I grew up without my mother, and then she came back, and I was like, ‘Who are you?’ So after that, at age nine, I had a mind of my own. I was always running my mouth.”

And while the two regularly agree that Hidalgo is the more talkative of the two, they feel that they compete with each other on a daily basis. From good grades in the same class to the girls they talk to on campus, Hidalgo and Jimenez are always searching for new ways to outdo one another.

“We compete a lot,” Hidalgo said. “We really do.”

“It goes from how we did in school to how we did on the field,” Jimenez said. “We really don’t joke around on the field, though. If (Hidalgo) had a bad game, or I had a bad game, we both admit we had a bad game. But then we’re like, ‘Hey. Don’t worry about it.’

“I think all this competition makes us closer together. We fight a lot, but two seconds later we’ll be hugging again.”

Since being roommates at Edison Academic Center, a school in Bradenton designed to train future prospects for the U.S. National Team with famous alumni such as Freddy Adu, Hidalgo and Jimenez have endured some criticism as to why they chose to come to USF, which is not well known for its soccer team.

“We got picked on a lot,” Hidalgo said. “Players on the national team, coaches, people back home. We had choices like UCLA, and then we went to USF. And everyone was like, ‘USF? Where’s that?'”

“My head coach told me, ‘You have a chance to go pro. Why are you going to bother with USF?'” Jimenez said.

Hidalgo and Jimenez found condolence in their eventual choice to become Bulls, partly because of how much Hidalgo pitched USF to Jimenez, but also in the straightforwardness of coach George Kiefer.

“(Hidalgo) called me on a visit at USF,” Jimenez said. “And he said I should come visit. And I asked, ‘Where? USF? Where’s that?’

“So I came the next day, when chances were that I wouldn’t like (USF). And (Hidalgo) was right, I loved it, and we went home, and I think we made our decision a day later.”

“And Kiefer, he was straight up with us,” Hidalgo said. “He told us that we don’t care about your national team experience and that he was going to treat us just like we treat the seniors on the team.”

Hidalgo and Jimenez, who were two of the top-rated recruits in the country before coming to USF, have now made a direct impact on the offense, becoming indispensable during game situations. Both have scored game-winning goals this season. Hidalgo has nine points in eight games, and Jimenez has three.

Now the two will set their sights on the team goal: the C-USA Tournament.

“I will say this much,” Hidalgo said. “We’ll be in the Conference USA final. When we get there, there will still be a lot we have to prove.”

“I don’t like to look that far ahead,” Jimenez said. “I don’t want to be disappointed. I try to take it one game at a time and set a goal about just wanting to win.”