New England Soccer Today

Writers Roundtable: McCarthy v. Soares

Photos: Chris Aduama/ (L), Kari Heistad/ (R)

Photos: Chris Aduama/ (L), Kari Heistad/ (R)

On Friday, New England Soccer Today‘s Sean Donahue wrote about the positional battle between Stephen McCarthy and A.J. Soares for the center back spot opposite of Jose Goncalves.

As a follow up, we asked four local writers give their take on the duel at center back. Here’s what they had to say:

Sean Donahue, New England Soccer Today: While I don’t think there is too much to separate McCarthy v. Soares – particularly if Soares continues to cut down on the errors that plagued his sophomore season like he did down the stretch in 2013 – if the choice was to be made right now without the ability to factor in preseason form, I’d have to go McCarthy. The biggest thing separating McCarthy from Soares is the ability to pass out of the back and the difference from McCarthy’s 83.3% passing accuracy to Soares’ 72.1% can’t be easily overlooked. With Heaps looking to play a possession brand of soccer, a lot of that comes from building from the back and McCarthy gives the team a sizeable advantage here.

Still, Soares has his advantages as well and the fourth year defender improved greatly last season at avoiding diving into tackles and giving up dangerous free kicks – something McCarthy seemed to regress a bit on. Soares also positioned himself to make some game saving blocks last season and has the advantage of having played the position longer. With the competition largely even elsewhere – outside of McCarthy’s aerial advantage due to his height – Heaps’ would be wise to select whoever is in the best form at the end of preseason, with the slight edge to McCarthy if it’s even.

Justin Churchill, I think it all really depends on form. As many saw last year, each defender was streaky at different points of the year. Soares was seeing the field towards the end of the season and may still in favor with Heaps.

 McCarthy is a strong physical player, who has picked up the CB position well over the last few years. His development and size make him a really viable option. However, Soares did have a good run out towards the end of last season, as a big supporter of in form players, I have to take him starting with Goncalves at CB for now.
Brian O’Connell, New England Soccer Today: Deciding between Soares and McCarthy is essentially choosing the lesser of two evils. This isn’t a knock on either, per se. Both are quality players who bring a certain skill set to the table. But, right now, the fact is neither really stacks up as a solid, season-long MLS starter. At least not yet. And that’s where I’m taking this argument.
On one hand, you have Soares, a pure center back who probably doesn’t get enough credit for reading the game as well as he does. Aside from Goncalves, Soares is probably the best in the Revolution backline at diagnosing the attack and putting himself in the right spot. But as good as he’s shown himself in the past, he still struggles to stay consistent over a long period of time. Despite playing beside the best center back in MLS, Soares’ game didn’t significantly improve in 2013. Rather, he stayed the same player, a player who’s prone to making embarrassing mistakes with alarming frequency.
On the other hand, you have McCarthy. The converted center back has made significant strides since the early part of 2012, when he often looked as disjointed as two people in a horse costume. But since then, he’s slowly turned in a legit center back, albeit a center back who’s shown to react too slowly to oncoming threats. Even so, McCarthy is still improving; he hasn’t hit his ceiling. He’s strong in the air, he cuts off passing lanes, and he can distribute pretty darn well.
That said, I think Soares has peaked; McCarthy hasn’t just yet.  So, in light of that, I have to give the job to McCarthy, who I think will be better this year, not only by his standards, but by the club’s standards, as well.

Ryan Lanigan, New England Soccer Today: Competition is always a good thing and with two – or maybe more – candidates vying to partner with Jose Goncalves in the middle of the Revs defense, the best option is AJ Soares. If you look at the last 11 games of the regular season last year, Soares started in 10 of them and the team boasted a 6-1-3 record with two shut outs. I think it was in that time that Soares really proved to be the best option for the team. Stephen McCarthy was also part of a huge part of last season, starting in all four of the Revs games in which they had four straight shutouts (5/18-6/18). They are very close in a lot of statistics and in some cases the numbers favor McCarthy but in the end I think results are the most important part. I think he worked well with Goncalves in the middle, and though McCarthy certainly offers height, Goncalves can be that option with Soares being his partner.

This past season Soares showed improvement from his second year – which can accurately described a sophomore slump given the skill he showed in his rookie and third years in the league. He will need to improve on his patience with the ball as he sometime has the tendency to rush the play, but he showed signs of improvement on that last season. At times, Soares has been on the bad end of a strong offensive push but there are also times he makes a huge play to save the day. Expect more of the latter if he earns the starting nod this year.


  1. Robert

    February 3, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    I’m very surprised the F. O. didn’t draft or sign a Centerback for competition or depth. They did not even bring a CB in to trial with the club so, apparently, Heaps must be fairly confident with the position. Or he’s planning to man the position with Andrew Farrell. We’ll find out in Arizona.

  2. nogoodusernames

    February 13, 2014 at 10:33 am

    Brian, I think it’s pretty harsh to say that a 25 year old has already “peaked”, unless you don’t think the coaching staff is able to further develop players in their mid 20’s. One thing I’ve said before that I think did hurt his development is that he was forced to lead the defense, and train a player converting to center back in his 2nd season as a pro. That’s to me is way to much to expect from a young pro, and was an absolutely terrible decision by the coaches and front office. It was no wonder he struggled that year.

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