When Joey Maher moved into his brother’s old room at IU, there was a letter waiting for him.
It was written by his brother Jack, an IU men’s soccer defender who would soon be selected No. 2 overall by Nashville SC in the MLS SuperDraft.
The letter congratulated Joey on becoming a Hoosier and gave him advice on the collegiate athlete lifestyle.
At the bottom was a message.
“Your biggest fan is one call away,” it read.
Two years ago when Jack came to IU, he was in a similar spot to Joey, looking for a way onto the team. When Jack left, he was the Big Ten Defender of the Year and a United Soccer Coaches Second Team All-American.
Now Joey is trying to fill Jack’s cleats as much as he has his bedroom.
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Joey committed to play soccer at IU in March 2019, just three months after Jack and IU ended their season with a 2-0 loss to Maryland in the College Cup.
Jack would be a junior when Joey joined IU as a freshman. They would be on the same team for the first time since Joey was 8, before they were split up to play with their respective age groups.
Of course, playing with his brother was a big draw to signing with IU. But he was also joining a historic program with a team strong enough to compete for another national championship.
“Nothing can beat this program,” Joey said. “The coaches, the players, they all have this amazing culture, and that’s something that I really looked at.”
But it wasn’t meant to happen. Instead, Jack would enter the MLS SuperDraft, Major League Soccer’s amateur player draft, on Jan. 9. He’d be taken second overall, greeted at his front door by his new team’s general manager and a busload of superfans.
Jack would have loved to play with his brother, he said, but as he gained a better understanding of where he’d be drafted, he chose what was best for him.
“At the end of the day, it was something that Joey said, that this was something I’ve been dreaming about ever since I could remember,” Jack said.
The Maher household was filled with friends and family waiting to celebrate with Jack during the draft. When his name was called, Jack hugged his parents, then pulled in Joey.
It became a bittersweet moment for Joey, he said. While proud of his older brother, it also meant he’d be the only Maher at IU.
“I just want what’s best for my big brother,” Joey said. “Yeah, it’s a little upsetting we’ll not be in an IU uniform together, but I felt like he made the right decision.”
Their relationship goes both ways. Despite Jack being two years older, he said he learns just as much from Joey as Joey does from him.
“He’s absolutely someone that I look up to in a sense,” Jack said. “He’s someone that I know whenever we’re with each other, it’s this unwavering commitment to making each other better.”
They don’t see each other much anymore, since Jack is in Nashville, Tennessee, and Joey is in Bloomington. Instead, they talk on the phone multiple times a week, as much about “The Office” as defending.
They’re competitive, too. Joey still has a scar he earned after hitting the back of his head on a chair during an indoor soccer game when he was in first grade.
“It’s the first time your brother is actually beating you in a game of soccer, something you think you’re really good at,” Jack said. “I remember pushing Joey. It was a nice little love tap, that’s what I like to call it.”
Now Joey is following in Jack’s footsteps, but he’ll have to blaze his own path on a team a year removed from its last game – a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to the University of California, Santa Barbara in the NCAA Tournament in December 2019.
The draft was on the second day of Joey’s IU freshman orientation. He headed back to Bloomington the next day.
He started preparing for a season unlike any IU soccer has dealt with before, starting in February instead of the fall like normal.
Part of Joey’s preparations for the season include watching film – specifically, his brother’s.
“We would go through and watch a lot of my game film, and playing with guys like Spencer Glass, Daniel Munie, Roman [Celentano] in the back of the net,” Jack said. “Every single person that I’ve played with, he’s going to have the ability to play with at Indiana.”
The film study has helped Joey pick up on the tendencies of his teammates and how he needs to feed them.
The brothers send each other game clips to analyze. Sometimes Joey has a question about film from a Premier League game, and sometimes Jack wants to ask about his positioning.
But if Joey needs help looking at film from this year or needs advice on the field or just needs a friend, he knows where to go.
His biggest fan is just one call away.