Memories of a long-ago rivalry quickly flooded back as Travis Pittman and Drew Ruggles shared stories with their teammates during a kick-around last month in Boise, Idaho.
A newspaper photo of Ruggles grabbing at Pittman’s Osbourn jersey stood out. As did Pittman’s highlight-reel goal in a playback game between Osbourn and Osbourn Park to determine the top seed in the Cedar Run District Tournament.
Unreal was the best way to describe their feelings as the two kept shaking their heads about this moment. It was hard to believe that after first competing against each other in high school 10 years ago followed by similar pro careers, they were now teammates for the first time.
Neither expected this to happen for themselves, let alone doing it together two time zones away from their hometown of Manassas competing for the United States in an international indoor soccer friendly against Mexico.
But then came bigger news. This was not a one-time occurrence.
On Sept. 4, both were among the 14 players chosen to represent the United States at the Mini World Cup Oct. 1-11 in Perth Australia.
They continued to shake their heads in amazement. The news kept getting better.
“He’s been going left and I’ve been going right, but we’ve always been going down the same road,” Ruggles said.
THE PRO ROUTE
The chance to play together almost didn’t happen.
Burned out from soccer and in need of rest, Pittman returned home two years ago and coached four girls youth soccer teams at his former club in Springfield.
The 28-year-old began his pro soccer career in 2013 by signing with Wichita (Kansas) after starting four years at West Virginia University.
From Wichita he bounced around among indoor and outdoor teams in New York, where he won a title in 2015, Missouri, Richmond and Baltimore, where he won an indoor championship in 2017, and then back to Wichita before deciding to take a break.
As he settled into his new role, Pittman wondered whether his playing days were over. He competed in pick-up games at Hellwig Park, but had no interest in doing this full-time. Or so he thought.
The layoff rejuvenated him and he realized he missed competing. When the New York Cosmos called and asked if he was interested in joining them for the remainder of the season, he said yes.
“I wanted to play,” said Pittman, the 2009 Cedar Run District Player of the Year at Osbourn. “You can only train for so long.”
After spending time with New York, Pittman signed a one-year deal with the San Diego Sockers for the 2018-19 Major Arena Soccer League season.
The Sockers liked Pittman’s physical style of play in the midfield. They also liked his experience with winning championships.
The opportunity to play in San Diego helped Pittman’s chances to compete in the Mini World Cup since the team’s head coach (Phil Salvagio) and the Sockers’ director of player personnel (Chiky Luna) were two of the three people selecting the U.S. team.
The Mini World Cup was in the back of Pittman’s mind when he signed with the Sockers, but he knew there were no guarantees of securing a spot.
San Diego’s Craig Elsten said players were chosen for various reasons, from talent and work ethic to availability, and familiarity with mini-football, a sport that features six players, including a goalie, on each side.
Teams compete in two 25-minute halves on fields that are 50 meters long and 30 meters wide.
Whether he made the World Cup team or not, Pittman looked forward to playing for the Sockers.
“They play at such a high level and I wanted to be a part of that,” Pittman said.
While Pittman got situated in San Diego, Ruggles was figuring out his next move.
In the spring, he helped lead the Milwaukee Wave to the MASL title. Ruggles played for years for Milwaukee and considered staying with the Wave.
But instead, the 27-year-old defender signed in the offseason with the Florida Tropics. It was a tough decision, but Ruggles felt the need to get out of his comfort zone.
“For me the biggest thing was making sure I didn’t get complacent,” Ruggles said. “It was the right time to pursue a challenge, especially being a free agent after winning a championship. It was a good situation.”
The former Osbourn Park all-district performer began his pro career after leaving Georgia Southern in April of his junior year to try out for the Charleston Battery.
After failing to make the team, he signed with the Wilmington Hammerheads in 2014. From there, Ruggles played for the Baltimore Blast and the Rochester Rhinos, where he won a title, before joining Milwaukee in 2015.
Unlike Pittman, Ruggles never considered retiring from soccer.
“I don’t really want to do anything else in my life for the time being,” Ruggles said. “I feel fortunate. I’ve never had a moment where I wanted to take a step back for more motivation.”
Ruggles and Pittman each bring a different skillset to the World Cup team, according to Elsten.
“[Ruggles] is a tenacious and athletic defender who will match up well against some of the bigger forwards internationally, has the ability to beat players off the dribble, and can absolutely come forward and contribute offensively as well,” Elsten said. “[Pittman] is the ultimate team player, a midfielder who defends and plays both ends of the field, can finish with the left foot and is willing to put in the necessary work rate to win.”
Once he confirmed his availability, Ruggles reached out to Pittman through their usual means of communication (Facebook) to see if he was going.
“It seems like the only place where either of us respond in a timely manner,” Ruggles said.
After being informed of their selection Sept, 4, they didn’t have much time to process the big news.
But Pittman and Ruggles recognized its unique significance. Ruggles, for example, said how differently people might view the roster when it lists hometowns for each player.
“People skip over it, but this brought it to life,” Ruggles said.
Outside of playing against each other in high school and having mutual friends, the two weren’t close growing up. But they followed each other’s careers as they took similar paths with similar results.
Ruggles pointed out that if the United States wins the international indoor competition, he and Pittman will now have something else in common: owners of three titles apiece.
If that happens, they see the accomplishment as a chance to connect them back to their roots.
“It’s something we’d like to share and bring back to Manassas and say, ‘You can do this too.’ It’s not the World Cup and it’s not FIFA, but there are other avenues to pursue and still compete at a high level,” Ruggles said. “And two kids from Manassas did it.”