BALTIMORE – AJ Soares decided he wanted to be a professional athlete at the age of five. By age 11, he had set his heart on soccer.
On Thursday afternoon at the Baltimore Convention Center, Soares’ childhood ambition became reality when the New England Revolution selected him with the sixth overall pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft.
“It was right around [age 11] when one of my coaches told me that I could be [a professional soccer player],” said Soares. “From that day on I said, ‘Alright, I’ll do everything I can to get there.’ So that’s what I did.”
Soares’ journey to the professional ranks was aided by a standout four-year career at the University of California, where he made 77 appearances – all starts – as a central defender after converting from an attacking midfield position. Twice he earned First Team All-Pac-10 honors and was named the conference’s player of the year following his senior season.
Steve Nicol called Soares “a football player,” a high compliment from the Revolution’s head coach and a clear reference to the 22-year-old’s cerebral approach and balanced skill set.
“He wants to pass the ball, and he can pass the ball,” Nicol said of Soares, who has drawn comparisons to former Revolution defender Michael Parkhurst. “He’s very mature for his years, which is something you really want from a center back. You want them to be controlling things and talking to the people in front of [them], and he’ll certainly do that.”
Like all young defenders developing in the Revolution’s system in years past, Soares will have the luxury of learning from Nicol, who plied his trade on legendary English club Liverpool FC’s backline for 15 years in the 1980s and 90s.
“I’m going to learn from him, the rest of the staff and even the players,” said Soares when asked about Nicol’s defensive pedigree. “They have so many great players on that team and it’s definitely a place that I’m going to get much better as a player, and I’m really excited for that.
“[New England’s] a place I think I can contribute and I think they’re going to look to me to contribute,” Soares continued. “So I think it’s going to be a great relationship between me and the organization.”
Born and raised in California, Soares has lived on the West Coast his entire life but could not be more enthusiastic about making a new home in the Northeast. In fact, he envisioned a future in New England even before MLS Commissioner Don Garber called his name with the sixth overall pick.
“My gut told me that this is where I’d be picked, to the Revolution,” said Soares. “[Boston’s] a rad city. I love that city. [It’s] a great sporting region … It’s a place that you want to be as an athlete. It’s a place that I’ll develop. I’ll appreciate all the fans. It’s a place that I’m going to love being. I’ll transition into it easily.”
If Soares hasn’t already endeared himself to the Foxborough faithful with his glowing review of the Northeast, he certainly plans to do so with his workmanlike attitude and team-first mentality.
“All I can control is how hard I work,” Soares said. “If I do that, I trust in the staff to make the right decisions for the team. I’m going to contribute in any way that I can. Whatever they tell me to do, that’s what I’m doing.”