A.J. Soares vs. Portland Timbers

Born to lead

The following story was published in the Revolution’s “Match Day” program for the May 2 game against the Colorado Rapids

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Sometimes leaders are borne out of experience. Others are borne out of necessity. But every so often – on rare occasions – they’re just born.

A.J. Soares is a born leader.

Even as a rookie the traits were evident. Passionate. Supportive. Communicative. Humble.

“I think from day one he was one of the guys that [his teammates] look up to,” said Revolution captain Shalrie Joseph. “Even at a young age, he came in here and was ready to work.”

Soares is a motivator both on and off the field and he backs up his encouragement with his actions by consistently proving himself to be one of the hardest working players on the team. If you’re ever looking for Soares in the hours following a training session, you can typically find him in the Revolution’s workout facility. In his estimation, you can never stop improving.

A starting center back from the outset last season, Soares was a pillar of the Revolution’s backline in his first professional campaign. Now in his second season, he’s continually striving to better himself both as a player and as a leader.

“I’m more comfortable,” said Soares. “I learned a lot from the rookie season, I learned a lot coming into this year and I’m still learning a lot. But I’m definitely more comfortable every single game and I’m trying to take more of a leadership role.”

Soares’ leadership on the Revolution’s backline has been critical early in the 2012 season. Injuries and suspensions depleted New England’s defensive corps in March and April, and after just five games Soares was the only defender to have started every match. His presence helped maintain a semblance of continuity and the Revs responded by conceding just two goals in a three-game stretch from March 24 to April 5.

Particularly influenced by Soares’ guidance has been Stephen McCarthy, a fellow 2011 draft pick of the Revolution. McCarthy spent his rookie season playing exclusively as a central midfielder but made the transition to central defense under new head coach Jay Heaps this preseason. As he’s eased his way into the position, McCarthy says the assistance of Soares has been vital.

“I ask him questions every day and he’s always trying to be helpful and he’s always talking to me the entire game,” said McCarthy. “It’s been incredible. We’re good friends, so that helps, as well.”

Soares has embraced the task of schooling McCarthy as a center back, but he claims he’s just as much of a student as he is a teacher.

“[Stephen] brings a lot to the position, too,” said Soares. “He’s experienced as a soccer player and that’s what’s important. Even though he’s not really experienced with the position, he brings a lot to the game and he brings a calmness because he’s a midfielder, someone who’s good on the ball.

“I try to give him little tips here and there about the position and how to do little tricks in the game,” he continued, “and he obviously helps me out a lot in his own ways.”

Soares soaks up information from anyone who’s willing to offer advice, whether it be coaches, teammates or staff members. He holds the Revolution’s veterans in particularly high regard; players like Joseph, Matt Reis and Clyde Simms. According to Soares, there are lessons to be learned on a daily basis.

“You see a guy like Clyde who just plays his position so perfectly,” Soares said. “He doesn’t ask for any glory, he doesn’t try to do anything that’s not required of his position. When I see him, I want to try to be the center back that’s like that, who does his position perfectly and lets his teammates do their positions.”

Soares admires Joseph for his longevity and durability – “He never misses a training session, never misses a game” – and Reis for his contagious camaraderie in the locker room. Every day he learns something new as he shapes the lessons to form his own identity as a leader.

For Joseph, the respect is mutual. New England’s captain since 2010, Joseph sees all of the necessary qualities within Soares to be a future captain of the Revolution. And the “future” part is only because Joseph already wears the armband.

“He could probably be the captain tomorrow, that’s how good of a leader he would be,” said Joseph. “Once the armband is handed to him I think he’ll be one of the best leaders in Revs history.”

It remains to be seen whether Soares will one day inherit the armband, but regardless, he’ll continue to lead with or without the designation on his uniform.

After all, that’s what he was born to do.

“I think there are innate leaders and there are different types of leaders, but there are guys who have that leadership quality within them and I think I do have that,” Soares said. “I’ve been the captain on every team that I’ve been on, so I’d love to be the captain of the Revs one day.”