A.J. Soares and Servando Carrasco Will Face Off at the Pro Level
• 6 Pac-10 Players Selected In 2011 Draft
By Brian Price
California soccer teammates and friends A.J. Soares and Servando Carrasco didn't get off to great starts in their soccer careers.
"I was cut from the first club team I ever tried out for, when I was six," remembers Soares. "I just didn't have the tools at the time to play on the team. But it was a blessing. It enriched my passion for the game of soccer. I only wanted to get better."
Ditto for Carrasco. "One of my best friends was a year older than me when I was first getting into club soccer. We both tried out for the under-nine-year-old club level. He made it and I didn't," Carrasco says. "I hated that, and from that experience, as a seven year-old, I've had a fire in me to never feel like that again."
The early disappointments have paid off big time. In the MLS 2011 Superdraft, central defender Soares was selected sixth overall by the New England Revolution. Carrasco was picked 27th overall by the Seattle Sounders. Both players will help reshape two of the proudest soccer clubs in America.
Carrasco and Soares were two of five Bears taken by professional American teams in the 2011 MLS Superdraft, which set a school record for a single draft. The others are defender Demetrius Omphroy (R2, P26) by Toronto FC, midfielder Hector Jimenez (R2, P34) by The L.A. Galaxy, and forward Davis Paul (R3, P51) by The Chicago Fire.
All five had also been invited to the MLS combine in Florida earlier this month (another Cal record), and were signed to Major League Soccer before the draft or combine even took place.
"It was amazing to go to the combine along with [four of my] teammates from Cal who I've played with the past four seasons. Being there with them was a definite confident boost and it also speaks to what a strong squad we had this past season," says Carrasco.
As senior captains this past year, Soares and Carrasco helped lead the Bears to the 2010 Pac-10 championship (one of two during their careers). Another career highlight both like to mention is that the team also defeated Stanford seven times.
What was their winning formula?
"Every person on the roster mattered and played a vital part in establishing the mentality of this team which was a family mentality," Carrasco says. "Even the freshman who were new to the mix felt as if they were upperclassmen because of how we brought them and in and how they were able to contribute immediately."
The 2010 Bears advanced to the NCAA quarter-finals before losing to Akron, the eventual NCAA champions, in a 3-2 shootout.
Akron, which set an NCAA record this year with seven draftees (five of whom were selected in the top eight picks of the first round), may have halted the Bears' championship aspirations, but nothing can take away from what the Bears accomplished in compiling an outstanding 14-2-4 record.
Soares was named 2010 Pac-10 Player of the Year, and was a semi-finalist for the M.A.C Hermann Trophy, leading a defense that only allowed seventeen goals in twenty games. He also proved to be a dynamic threat on offense, providing career highs with five goals and eleven points overall.
"I'm just excited to be drafted by such a historic team. They're one of the best franchises in the history of the MLS," said Soares.
Based on the contributions of past Revolution rookies, Soares will be put right to work, perhaps as a starter. Last season, Revs rookies Seth Sinovic and Zach Schilawski each logged well over 1,000 minutes played and ranked seventh and tenth, respectively, in rookie playing time.
Both Soares and the rest of the soccer-watching nation are also well aware that The Revolution, usually a staple of the MLS playoffs, missed the cut last year for the first time since 2001. "After missing the playoffs, I know the club is looking to work extra-hard to get back to their winning ways and I'm just glad to be a part of that," Soares says.
Soares and Carrasco, who will now face off against each other at the pro level, have been friends since they were kids.
"We've played on the same team since the age of 9, so we've known each other for close to 13 years now," says Carrasco who also noted that he thinks of Soares' family as his own.
So how will that affect their relationship on the field as opponents?
"We're two of the most competitive people you'll ever meet, so I know when we finally get in a game facing each other, we're both going to go 110% to beat one another. It's something we've always talked about and are excited to experience," says Carrasco.
After scoring seven goals and assisting on three in twenty games for the 2010 Bears, Carrasco is eager to exceed expectations with the Sounders. As a holding midfielder in college, Carrasco will be joining one of the best in the game, Osvaldo Alonso, with Seattle. "I know playing next to Osvaldo I'm going to learn so much," Carrasco says. "My ultimate goal is get to Seattle, do everything I can to make the team better and learn a lot along the way."
With tremendous attitudes, a top-shelf soccer pedigree, and a fire that's been burning for over a decade now, these Bears are primed to help ignite their new clubs at the pro level.
Not bad for two guys who didn't make the cut early on.