Illineks' twin brothers showed passion for the game at early age

Illineks' twin brothers showed passion for the game at early age

URBANA — The atmosphere was chaotic when Uni High boys' soccer coach Phil Anders first saw Omeed Miraftab-Salo and Rahi Miraftab-Salo play. Anders used to rent out Brookens Gym in Urbana, and he invited kids of different age groups from around town to play, a program he started when his son was young.

In that gym full of 8-year olds and 9-year olds, Anders could see something special in the twins.

"Their personalities were very similar (to what they are now)," Anders said. "Omeed was very critical. He would say, 'Oh, I'm not playing well,' and Rahi was like, 'I can play? OK, where's the ball.'

"It's obvious that their interest in (soccer) is just abundant. This is what they enjoy doing. It was back then. In those types of programs, there are always those kids that their parents signed them up. And then there are those kids that they ask their parents to sign them up. Omeed and Rahi, they weren't difficult to work with, which was nice."

Of course, he didn't know the brothers would be future cornerstones of his program. He didn't even know they'd play for his team.

That's a unique aspect about coaching at Uni High. The pipeline at the highly selective school is impossible to predict.

But it just so happened that these two highly-skilled players, Omeed, a ferocious central midfielder who picks out passes from deep in the field, and Rahi, a fantastic dribbler who is on the verge of breaking the program's goal scoring and assist records, ended up testing into and attending Uni High.

And for Anders, who prefers his teams to hold possession and play short passes through the midfield, they were a perfect fit. In 2015, when the Illineks made an undefeated run to the Class 1A state semifinals, Rahi led the area with 24 assists and scored 23 goals as a sophomore. Omeed was a stalwart in the midfield and finished with nine goals and 14 assists.

That season, they were surrounded by several talented seniors, including News-Gazette Player of the Year Panos Voulgaris.

Over the last two years, they've become the team's focal points. A year ago, they led their young team to an 18-3 record before falling to Champaign Central in the Class 2A regional semifinals

"You have a lot of responsibility," Omeed said. "In 2015 I was only a sophomore, so I was just kind of trying to keep up with those older guys and trying to learn as much as I can, and it was a lot of fun because there was no pressure on me I felt. We were just going out there and having fun. Now, it's kind of, you've got to keep everybody in line and make sure they're being held accountable. It's a different vibe, but it's still really fun."

During that 2015 season, the Illineks topped St. Thomas More in a 1A sectional final that was one of their toughest obstacles on their way to state.

If they make a run this year, they'll likely have to go through the Sabers again, who they tied, 1-1, earlier this season. Uni High (17-2-2) starts its postseason at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday in a Hoopeston Area Regional semifinal match against Schlarman (1-13).

"That was a really cool game, a lot of fans showed up, it was intense," Rahi said of the early-season matchup with STM. "I'm excited to see if we both make it again."

A meeting in the Sweet 16 against the Sabers, though, isn't guaranteed. The other tie Uni High had this season was against St. Teresa, a possible sectional semifinal opponent.

"It's going to be tough if we get there, and it's going to be tough against St. Teresa," Anders said. "It's going to come down to the wire for us. I don't expect any of those to be easy."

One thing, though, is virtually certain. If the Illineks go down, they'll go down playing their style. And the Miraftab-Salo brothers will be at the helm.