FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Forwards around the league will not particularly welcome New England defender A.J. Soares' rosy self-assessment after he spent the winter rehabbing his troublesome left ankle.
“I'm already way better than I was last season,” Soares told MLSsoccer.com last week before the Revs departed for Casa Grande, Ariz., over the weekend. “I have more movement and I'm not wearing tape on my ankle. It feels awesome to feel normal again.”
Soares has said on several occasions that he never really felt that way during his rookie campaign. The former Cal defender injured his ankle during a preseason trip to suburban Atlanta and fought through bone spurs in the joint during the season. Despite those persistent concerns, Soares muddled through the intermittent discomfort and started 28 games before ending his season in October to undergo an operation to rectify the concerns.
The post-surgery timeline placed the onus on Soares to perform much of his rehab work during the offseason. Soares said he spent most of his time at home working with specialists at Rehab United in San Diego to restore the flexibility and the range of motion in his ankle.
The hard work paid off last week as Soares participated fully in the Revs' preseason training sessions. While the second-year defender said he isn't 100 percent just yet, he knows he will hit that mark by the time he and his teammates take the field in the season opener at San Jose on March 10.
“I'm really excited to play at 100 percent again, like back when I was at Cal,” Soares said. “Last season, I thought I did well, but I definitely felt a lot of pain in my ankle and it was definitely slowing my game down a bit. I'm thrilled to be able to play at 100 percent again.”
Until that particular moment arrives, Soares said he will continue to build his fitness and increase the strength in his ankle. Those physical strides could lay the groundwork for a significant improvement on the field, according to Revolution coach Jay Heaps.
“In my conversations with him, we've only just scratched the surface on A.J. Soares in terms of his development,” Heaps said. “Even [current US national team and former New England defender] Michael Parkhurst when he came, he was great in his first year, but he got better. I think A.J. was great last year and will get better.”