Cleats for a cause: how two Maryland men’s soccer players are honoring breast cancer survivors

Visit Ludwig Field on a brisk October night and you’ll see various forms of self expression. From footwear to footwork, Maryland men’s soccer is a team with an affinity for flair. 

Soccer style is important these days, and cleats have evolved to fit this mantra. They’re no longer padded and cumbersome. Instead, they’re almost skin tight, designed to mold into the player’s foot. And the range of colors has expanded. Most Maryland players opt for some variation on the Terps’ primary colors — red, black, and gold are all favorites. 

But Matt Di Rosa and Ben Di Rosa are using their cleats for a different kind of self expression. This October, they have stood out on the Ludwig grass due to their fluorescent pink boots. However, instead of a fashion statement, the twins have donned the cleats in honor of two family members who survived breast cancer, representing their support for breast cancer awareness. 

“Cancer affects a lot of people,” Ben Di Rosa said, “more than just my family, more than just our team.”

The twins were first affected by breast cancer in early childhood, when their aunt was diagnosed. Two years after that, their mother was also diagnosed. Both survived and are in good health, but the boys have continued to keep the issue close to their hearts — and have looked for ways to show their support every October.

Their affinity for pink started last year with now-graduated midfielder Andrew Samuels. He wore pink cleats last October and added the Di Rosas’ mother’s initials to show his support. 

Andrew Samuels chases for a loose ball, repping the bright pink boots. Courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Inspired by their former teammate, Ben and Matt did the same this year. 

“It was a touching tribute that they decided to do their own piece of awareness,” coach Sasho Cirovski said. 

Kit manager Tim Ahner made sure the twins had the best gear. When they suggested the pink cleats, he supplied hard and soft ground versions of the same shoe —for both turf and grass fields. And of course, he made sure the color was as eye-catching as possible.  

“He just went over the top,” Ben Di Rosa said, “like, above and beyond for us.” 

The boots have turned heads both inside and outside of the locker room. Ben posted a picture of the cleats on his Instagram story to the approval of numerous family members and friends.

“I had a ton of family reach out,” Di Rosa said. “They were super happy to see it [and] super nostalgic about it.”

While the twins’ family has shown signs of appreciation, the rest of the team has only expressed one emotion — jealousy. 

Although the usual cleats are more than satisfactory, the bright pink is a fashion statement that has spurred envy among the rest of the group. 

“A lot of the guys who wear [size] 10-and-a-half have said one day they’re gonna go missing,” Ben Di Rosa said, with a laugh. 

But the flashy color is having a profound effect that could influence next season’s kit. Numerous players have expressed interest in getting similar cleats for next October. Although there are no firm plans in place, it looks as though the Di Rosas’ statement could spread throughout the locker room. 

“It would be really cool, eventually, to do something breast cancer-wise,” Ben Di Rosa said. “A lot of the guys were thinking next year they’d hope to get them.”

While there is no guarantee that their statement will expand for next year, the boys have used their platform to take a stand on an important issue.

“I support all of my players in anything they want to bring awareness to,” Cirovski said.

The bright pink cleats have been passed down from one generation of Maryland soccer players to the next, and the twins have caught the eye of teammates and family alike, all the while garnering awareness for a cause they are passionate about. 

“Any platform you have, you should use it,” Ben Di Rosa said. “Whatever message you want to send, you should feel free to use that platform to send that message.”