When Villanova opens their 2017 season tonight in Charlottesville, Virginia they’ll do so with a pair of Zandis on the squad and even more of their family members in the stands at Klöckner Stadium.
“Our cousins, our grandparents, everyone is coming down for the weekend,” junior midfielder Zach Zandi said in a recent interview.
The occasion for the family gathering isn’t just tonight’s game - Zach’s sister, Sydney Zandi, and the Virginia women’s team have their home opener Sunday at 2 p.m. against Liberty. Sydney made her college debut off the bench a week ago for UVa. in a 2-0 win over UNC Wilmington and played 66 minutes off the bench in a 2-1 overtime win over West Virginia Thursday.
For Zach, who has another sister named Addy entering her second season on Dickinson’s women’s soccer team, having his cousin on the team is something he’s been looking forward to ever since Max verbally committed to the program in January 2016.
“He’s basically my brother,” Zach Zandi said. “I was looking forward to him coming here; I’ve always kind of pushed for him to come here.”
While the first cousins, whose dads both played in college - Zach’s dad Karl at West Chester University; Max’s dad Peter at the University of Pennsylvania - grew up five minutes away from each other and have trained regularly together, they are teammates for the first time.
“I’ve never been able to play with him and I’ve always looked up to him,” said Max, who starred in high school at West Chester Henderson and with Penn Fusion Academy. “I like the academics and the soccer, but being able to play with him was an impact too.
Zach attended Henderson High School but never played for the team, competing instead with the Philadelphia Union Academy throughout his high school career. The creative central midfielder spent most of this past summer with Reading United and trained with Bethlehem Steel FC but also got his first taste of having Max as a teammate during a 10-day trip to Europe, which was preceded by a 10-day training camp.
Zach will be one of the leaders on the team from his position in the midfield.
“Zach is the maestro,” head coach Tom Carlin said. “He makes our attack go with his movement, combinations and appetite for creating scoring chances. His communication and overall tone as a leader has amplified. Starting to take real ownership in this program.”
With most of the starters returning from last year’s team - the first to make the NCAA Tournament in program history - Max will fight for minutes either on the back line where he played primarily in high school or as a holding midfielder.
“Max is a very different type of player,” Carlin said. “More of a defensive presence but he still has tidy feet to be able to help us play in and out of tight spaces. He has a promising future for our program.”
The Zandi cousins aren’t the only players on the team who are related. Twin brothers Shane Bradley and Conor Bradley, both Philadelphia Union Academy grads from Havertown, are entering their second season with the team.
“Between the Bradley twins and the Zandi cousins, it truly is a local family affair,” Carlin said.