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PSP talks to Revolution defender AJ Soares

AJ Soares was on every MLS team’s radar at the 2011 SuperDraft. He certainly appeared to fill an immediate need for the Union, as a versatile defender who can play on the outside or down the center. The Cal product has had a confident start to his MLS career and was tested on Wednesday against English Premier League champions Manchester United. PSP talked to Soares about the Man U game, coming of age in MLS, and the upcoming showdown with the first place Union.

Philly Soccer Page: The Union have not been good offensively but they’ve gotten a lot of their goals from mistakes by the opponent’s back line. You might have seen Perry Kitchen’s own goal last weekend, for example. Is that something you think about as a young player against a high pressure defense?

AJ Soares: It’s something you’re aware of going into the game but nothing that we’re emphasizing. It’s not much different than when you’re playing New York and you have [Thierry] Henry there or when you’re playing LA and you’ve got [Landon] Donovan there. I mean, these are good players and they’re going to be pressing you and you’ve always got to be ready for that.

PSP: How do you feel like you’ve adjusted so far? Was there a point where you thought everyone was bigger and faster than you thought they’d be?

AJ: Definitely there was a little adjustment period, but I have good teammates and they’ve made it easy to adjust into the league.

PSP: Has there ever been a point in your career where you’ve come up against that? Where you’ve arrived on a new team or going into college and suddenly realized you’d have to step up and work harder or do something different to keep up?

AJ: No, I’ve never said I need to work harder because I’ve always worked hard. I always prepare myself to go into those situation so that hasn’t been the case for me, no. But that’s all just about preparing and getting ready beforehand rather than getting there and getting a wake-up call. Playing against a Danny Mwanga, you’ve got to be fully sharp or they’ll punish you.

PSP: Looking at the team more generally, you guys have no league wins since May 14, but you haven’t lost by more than one since April 30. What do you guys need to do to get that next goal and get over that hump?

AJ: We’ve had a few unlucky breaks, a few bounces going in the wrong direction. But we can help ourselves by building from possession and believing in ourselves. The worst thing we could do is turn our backs on each other and start pointing the finger. We have a good locker room and everyone supports each other. We don’t lose by big margins so if we keep working hard and get a few lucky bounces—like every team gets—we should be fine.

PSP: I’m sure you know that the Union are licking their lips knowing that Shalrie Joseph won’t be able to go in this game. Does it effect you in the back not having a guy like that in the game?

AJ: Yeah, we do have a guy that can clear things in front of the back with Phelan, but with Shalrie, he’s our captain. And if you watched the game against Man U, you saw him out there and he could play for them. So when you’re missing him, you’re missing a quality player. You’re missing a leader, but there are other guys who can step up and do the job.

PSP: The Union recently sold their starting left back, Jordan Harvey. From your perspective, how important is it to have continuity with the same four in the back, along with the same goalie, game after game?

AJ: It’s definitely… I wouldn’t say four and one goalie. That would be ideal. But when you’re playing in a league with 36 games, the important thing is to have everybody on the same page so that when guys do step in it’s without missing a beat. With that said, it’d be ideal to have the same four every game to build that camaraderie. The Union have some good young players, I grew up with the Farfans and they’re phenomenal players. Any team would be lucky to have those guys fill in.

PSP: Sorry for being ignorant on this, but you really grew up with them? Or you just played against them a bit coming through the ranks?

AJ: Yeah, we’re all from San Diego and we played together all the time.

PSP: Any stories to pass on?

AJ: None for you.

PSP: Fair enough. Have you felt that in the first half of the season, the vets on other teams have been coming after you as a young player? Giving you an extra push or an extra word?

AJ: No, none of that. Guys in the league respect good players. Of course, they might think that, but they respect the players and they don’t look at me and say “Oh, he’s a young guy and we’re gonna go after him.” There’s always good camaraderie with everyone. Just because the pay is lower, the level isn’t that far off.

PSP: What was most impressive about Manchester United? What did you expect and how did they surprise you?

AJ: It was pretty much what I expected. I’m a fan of the team and I watch them all the time so I’m pretty familiar with the team. But one thing was the depth of their team. They made some subs in the second half and arguably their level increase. The other thing is their decisions. They always pick the right pass and they always pass it in the best possible way. They’re always looking out for each other and I think that is another thing they can do. When they do that, they’re basically taking the other team out of the game as a defense, you know, you can really go steal the ball as often as you’re used to. They’re keeping it in a way that you can’t even go get it.

PSP: Is that something you can prepare for without playing a team like that week in and week out?

AJ: It’s really… the tactics are not much different than teams in MLS, but the execution is much better. I think we were ready for the game and it showed in the first half. But if you want to capitalize on them taking a bad touch, it’s just a lot less often than against other teams. I’m a fan of them. I grew up watching VHS tapes of them back when David Beckham was there.

PSP: Was there anything you can take out of the Manchester United game that you identify that you can use to improve.

AJ: Confidence. Just knowing that you can go out there and play with those guys on the top level.

PSP: Thanks, good luck on Sunday.

AJ: Thanks.

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