New England Soccer Today

Discussion: A.J.’s Move to Serie A

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

On Monday, Jimmy Conrad of KickTV reported that out-of-contract center back A.J. Soares had made a move to join Serie A side Hellas Verona.

In order to get more insight on the reported move, NEST’s Julian Cardillo, who traveled to Italy in 2012 to cover AS Roma for, offers his thoughts, and what the former Revolution center back can expect once he arrives with his new club.

NEST: As someone who’s covered both the Revolution and Serie A first-hand, what were your initial thoughts about A.J. Soares moving to Hellas Verona?

Julian Cardillo: I was surprised, for a few reasons. The Italians as a whole have always been known for their defense—their catenaccio style—whereby they’re experts at protecting one-goal leads. Soares is relatively unproven. Yes, he’s a solid MLS player, but he doesn’t have any international experience. He’s the first MLS player without a national team cap to play in Serie A that I can remember.

What qualities or characteristics does Soares have that would prompt Verona to make a move for him?

JC: He’s very good in the air, which is now a must for Serie A teams since we’ve seen a rise in these bulldozer type forwards who can run onto anything. Soares’ passing out of the back has often been suspect, but you can hardly argue against him in the air. He’s held his own versus those hulking guys like Kenny Cooper, Steven Lenhart, and Will Bruin and I think that actually goes a long way. But from a paperwork standpoint, he’s such an easy snag for a team like Verona. He’s a free transfer and has Italian passport. He essentially can walk right in on January 1.

Is Veronas a good fit for a player of Soares’ experience and pedigree?

JC: Yes, but only because they’re a middle of the road team. This team doesn’t ever play in Champions League or Europa League. In fact they have one of Italy’s worst defensive records this year. A number of their defenders are hurt, so Soares will at the very least add some depth. I look at this transfer a little like Clint Dempsey’s to Fulham. Demspey did well there, in a relatively mediocre setting, then had his shot with a top-tier club in Tottenham. Soares could do the same thing. Hellas Verona is a good first step. If he impresses, who knows who might pick him up later?

What challenges await Soares in Serie A?

JC: Two big ones that jump out are playing time and politics. Playing time in the sense that he needs to be on his A-game 24 hours a day, seven days a week. With the Revolution he could afford to put in an okay practice because for the most part he was the go-to guy alongside Jose Goncalves. In Verona everyone is as good as Soares or better so every misstep will hurt him. And when I say politics, I mean that Soares could be prejudiced against as an American player. U.S. soccer has made quite a few leaps, but I can tell you that the average Italian—whether they are a soccer fan or coach—still sees more limitations than prospects in an American player. Verona clearly sees something in Soares, which is very good for him, but he will not get much leeway for his injuries and mistakes. Just look at what the Serie A did to players like Michael Bradley and Oguchi Onyewu: benched and forgotten.

Given Jurgen Klinsmann’s recent comments knocking the quality of MLS, do you think part of Soares’ motivation to go to Italy was to strengthen his consideration for a USMNT call up?

JC: Well, I think this is one of the more hypocritical parts of the Jurgen Klinsmann doctrine. At the World Cup, his most consistent players were MLS players. I don’t think Soares necessarily needed to leave MLS to get a national team call-up, just look at Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, DeAndre Yedlin, and Kyle Beckerman, to name a few. But, I will say, going to Verona will certainly put his name in big, bold, red letters on Klinsmann’s list. Remember, Klinsmann was a star player in Serie A, so he knows what a challenging place it can be. Let’s put it this way: if Soares gets consistent playing time in Italy, he’ll be seeing U.S. national team caps in no time.

Based upon some of the successes and failures we’ve seen in the past from American players in Italy, what must Soares absolutely have to do in order to succeed in Serie A?

JC: This goes back to being disciplined and making sure he limits all missteps and poor performances. It’s not easy. Italian coaches tend to get married to their tactics, especially in defense, until they absolutely have to make a change. Even if Soares does everything right, he might still find himself not making the bench. But opportunities will come up for him eventually. He needs to both be patient and make the most of every second he’s on the field.

Which other MLS players, given their pedigree, do you think have what it takes to succeed in a league like Serie A?

JC: I still think DeAndre Yedlin should have chosen Roma over Tottenham. But if I had to pick one American player it would be Graham Zusi. He’s incredibly versatile and fits very nicely into the Italian midfield scheme in which players have to be dynamic and play the game quickly and precisely on both sides of the ball. Michael Bradley would do well if he went back on loan. As for Revolution players, no one especially stands out.


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