Soares hopes to leave Quinnipiac legacy with soccer title

Quinnipiac's Paulo Soares plays the ball during a MAAC quarterfinal against Siena.

Quinnipiac’s Paulo Soares plays the ball during a MAAC quarterfinal against Siena.

Contributed photo

Injuries cost Paulo Soares most of two seasons of soccer at Quinnipiac. The pandemic threatened a third. He’d had a brilliant freshman year but worried that, as a senior captain, a lot of his teammates didn’t know much about him on the field.

Talking with a friend in the fall, Soares remembers, they wondered if they’d have a season.

“The main thing I told him is, no matter what, if we get a season, even during spring, if we’re able to play we’ve got to go on and make sure we win,” Soares said. “Our goal is to win everything. We’ve been grateful to have the opportunity to do it.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to do on the field, make sure I give everything and make sure we get the win, to reward the Quinnipiac family.”

The Bobcats get that chance on Saturday, hosting Monmouth in the MAAC final at 3 p.m. (ESPN+). This is their fourth trip to a final in eight seasons since joining the conference; they’re seeking their second NCAA tournament berth.

“From the directors to the people who clean the locker rooms, I have good relationships with them. It’s something that is needed,” Soares said. “I kind of take it personal. I kind of want to, before I leave — I don’t know what next; I’m focused on the season — but to make sure I give something.”

That’s what Quinnipiac coach Eric Da Costa sees in Soares, a leader whose energy and passion are contagious.

“He’s playing like a kid who has something to prove. He’s playing like a kid who has the end in sight, and that’s what you want your players to do from Day 1,” Da Costa said.

Soares said he played hurt his freshman year but still made the MAAC all-rookie team. He tried to stay healthy that next summer and build himself back up for the conference schedule, but a hit to the knee injured his meniscus and cost him the rest of the regular season.

Further injuries limited Soares, who was raised in Cape Verde and has played internationally for it, to only 41 minutes on the field in his junior year. Da Costa said he lost sleep over whether to play Soares in a playoff game against Iona or preserve that year of eligibility if Soares decided he wanted it. Da Costa chose to hold him out; the Bobcats lost.

MAAC Men’s Soccer Championship

WHO: Monmouth at Quinnipiac

WHEN: Saturday, 3 p.m.

WHERE: Quinnipiac Soccer and Lacrosse Stadium, Hamden (no outside spectators)

RECORDS: Monmouth 4-2-1; Quinnipiac 7-1-0


ABOUT THE MATCHUP: Top-seeded Quinnipiac will play for the MAAC championship for the fourth time since 2013, when it earned its only NCAA tournament bid. ... The Bobcats received votes in this week's United Soccer Coaches Top 25 Poll. ... Soph. F Brage Aasen leads the team with five goals and four assists. ... Sixth-seeded Monmouth made it through third-seeded Niagara 2-1 and second-seeded Rider 2-0 to make the final. Hawks Soph. M Griffin Tomas of Seymour has a goal and two assists and is second on the team with five shots on goal in six games, though he didn't play in the semifinal win over Fairfield. ... The teams did not meet in the regular season; Quinnipiac was 3-0 against Fairfield and Iona, the two teams that defeated Monmouth.

UP NEXT: Automatic bid to the NCAA tournament for the winner.


“You feel a little empty, because you know you could have helped a lot,” Soares said, “that if you were out there, giving everything for the team, that things probably would’ve been a little different.

“That’s pretty much the mentality we took to when we were given the opportunity to have a season. I think we were all grateful and thankful to be able to be here and play during these difficult times.”

Quinnipiac is 7-1, a team that Da Costa said ironically unified more tightly even as the pandemic kept them apart. Soares, a center midfielder who’s quick in transition, has a goal and two assists in eight games.

“He has an engine that just keeps on going. He covers every inch of grass, or in our case plastic grass, on the field,” Da Costa said. “He’s really technical as well. When we do have the ball, he offers a lot in terms of our buildup, how we create chances, how we get forward. Defensively, he’s a disruptor, wins lot of tackles, finds loose balls.”

Teams in Italy and Portugal scouted Soares in Cape Verde, and some of his friends signed, but his family wanted him to get an education (from a family with several civil engineers, including his father, that’s Soares’ major, and Da Costa says he’s “a fantastic student”) and sent him to high school in Quincy, Mass., at 17.

He played for Hammer FC in Boston, earned showcase invitations and started getting college looks. But the NCAA didn’t clear him for Division I play until the summer.

“Some doors close because there’s better ones out there for you,” Soares said.

Meanwhile, Da Costa said, a former player asked the coach to take a look at his cousin from Cape Verde.

“It was late. It was an extra player we were adding to the roster,” Da Costa said. “We took a chance on it. Talk about striking gold. The kid has surpassed expectations. In his mind, I know, he’s exactly where he thought he’d be. In our mind, in terms of how much we recruited him, the process in which it materialized, he’s surpassed expectations.”

A win on Saturday and he’ll have another opportunity to surpass them further.

“I remember talking to coach before the season, and I told him this group was special,” Soares said. “It had something special in it that, I didn’t know what, but it had something special. We’ve been sticking together, that’s the most important thing, no matter what comes in the way.”; @fornabaioctp