FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Typically, when a player sees his club use the first overall pick to sign his potential replacement, it doesn’t stoke the warmest or fuzziest feelings.
Nor does it make a player feel especially comfortable within his role, or what the immediate future holds for him.
But A.J. Soares isn’t your typical player. And this winter, the attitude he’s shown this preseason is anything but typical.
Faced with what’s shaping up to be one of the fiercest positional battles seen at the Dana Farber Fieldhouse, Soares, one of the Revolution’s two incumbent center backs, has actually embraced the five-player battle taking place in the middle of the defense.
“I’m happy about it,” Soares said. “It’s good to have competition. You know, you never want to be in there knowing that you’re going to be in the game every week, because you can lose yourself as a player.”
Well, that’s one way of looking at it.
Few would fault him for being bitter about the circumstances. During the offseason, Revolution signing an experienced center back (Jose Goncalves) and drafting a supremely talented defender (Andrew Farrell), Soares has maintained a positive attitude throughout preseason camp.
More than that, he’s welcomed Goncalves as Farrell as teammates rather viewing them as threats to his minutes.
“They’re both awesome guys,” Soares said. “They bring different things. I’ve been really impressed with Farrell so far. Sometimes, you get a guy who thinks he’s better than he is. He’s come in and worked hard and he’s kept quiet and he’s already established himself as a leader and as a good player. With Goncalves you’ve got experience, a knowledgeable guy, a freak athlete and another good guy.”
Head coach Jay Heaps is keeping a close eye on the battle at center back. Although it was a position he and General Manager Mike Burns earmarked for improvement during the offseason, the former defender isn’t ready to send Soares to the bench just yet.
So far, Heaps likes how the competition has brought out a heightened level of intensity from the former first round pick.
“I know that he’s not taking it easy,” Heaps said. ” I know it was the best offseason that he’s ever had in terms of fitness and in terms of getting himself ready.”
Last year, the Revolution center back came into camp still feeling the effects of an ankle injury he suffered during his rookie season. That, along with the challenge of adapting to a new coach, didn’t make for a memorable sophomore season - a season that saw him struggle to find consistency.
But with 2012 behind him, Soares is anxious to do all he can to keep his spot. Not only are his competitive juices flowing, but a shift in the team’s mentality has him excited for a bounce back season in 2013.
“It’s physical, it’s aggressive and competitive and it makes for better training,” Soares said. ”The trainings are sharper and because we know we want to be more physical this year, we want to, in a sense, foul them just as much as we’re getting fouled. I love the physical side I like tackling people and I’m happy about it ”
Regardless of how it shakes out, Soares won’t leave anything to chance. He knows that the challenge has never been steeper. He knows that the signing of Goncalves and selection of Farrell weren’t exactly endorsements of his performance last season. He knows that Stephen McCarthy – the team’s defender of the year in 2012 – and versatile veteran Darrius Barnes are just as hungry to stay on the field.
Motivation? Soares doesn’t need to look around and see that his starting job is at stake.
“It’s a big year for him,” said Heaps.