[MLS] University of California defender A.J. Soares, a first-round draft pick by the New England Revolution, says his approach to soccer is pretty much the same as when he started playing at age 5.
“I just had fun and liked competing,” says Soares, picked sixth overall in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. “I just like to get out there and win games – and I’m still having fun. My mentality hasn’t changed much since I was 5.”
It took 22-year-old Soares only three and a half years on the Berkeley campus to earn a degree in sociology. Raised in the San Diego area, he played 11 years for Surf SC. His brother, Steven, prompted Soares’ start in the sport.
“I knew that my big brother played and that’s why I started,” says Soares. “I just wanted to be like him. I still want to be like him.”
He also became a fan.
“I used to watch Beckham, when he was a Manchester United, a lot and hopefully now I can play against him,” says Soares. “When I was growing up it was David Beckham, the old Ronaldo – I was inspired by players like that.”
A.J., whose brother Steven is three years older, is the youngest of Steve and Lynn’s six children.
“My dad was a tuna fisherman from the time he was 15,” says A.J. “He worked his butt off to give us the opportunities that we got. He’s a professional in a different sense. He gave me my work ethic to try and be good at soccer.”
Soares' father had no soccer background but became involved through his children. He served as Surf SC president. Lynn is currently the Surf treasurer.
Lynn said she didn’t get too upset when A.J.’s soccer playing in the house resulted in broken cabinet doors and, on one occasion when he was 5, a perfect circle through one of their windows.
“We made him repair it,” says Steve. “He and I fixed the window.”
"That was part of instilling a work ethic," adds A.J.
The free-time play helped hone the skills that made A.J. a standout youth player. Soares played as an attacking midfielder throughout his youth career. His first stint at the central defender position he has now mastered came during the first game of his freshman year at Cal under Coach Kevin Grimes.
“Kevin Grimes really taught me everything I know about defense,” Soares says. “Learning from Kevin Grimes was the best thing that could have a happened to me.
“[Surf coach] Colin Chesters taught me how to be tough and to fight for every ball. He gave me that mentality, which was vital going into college. And Kevin Grimes polished my game up in terms of tactics and professionalism.”
Lynn says A.J. announced when he was 3 that he wanted to be a professional soccer player and worked toward that ever since.
“When I was 12 in the Surf soccer tournament, I scored a great goal from the outside,” Soares says. “At the time, I thought there were a lot of fans there. Maybe there were 20, 30 people. They were all cheering and that’s a feeling you get attached to. People cheering for you and your team winning a game. That feeling is something I try to feel everyday and I know I can have that opportunity with the New England Revolution.”