Last fall, while Jeff Soares was serving as an assistant boys’ soccer coach for Ocean Township High School, one of his responsibilities was to scout upcoming opponents.
One opponent in particular stood out, and it was probably the worst team on Ocean Township’s schedule. Rumson-Fair Haven High School went 1-14-1 in 2018. But Soares scouted the Bulldogs twice and came away with a passion about the team.
So when the Rumson-Fair Haven boys’ soccer coaching job opened in the offseason, Soares applied for the job —and got it.
The longtime assistant, who spent eight years with Ocean Township, passed on many head coaching opportunities over the years. But this one just felt right.
“I scouted them twice and came away very impressed,” Soares said.
Rumson-Fair Haven lost both of those games, to eventual NJSIAA Group 3 champion Holmdel High School and to eventual NJSIAA South Jersey, Group 2 finalist Manasquan High School. But the young Bulldogs nearly took two of New Jersey’s best teams to overtime.
“It was a young team with a lot of potential that just couldn’t finish games,” Soares said.
The first-year coach expects his Bulldogs to start realizing their potential and finishing games in 2019. Rumson-Fair Haven will open its regular season on Sept. 5 at Lacey Township High School. Opening tap is set for 3:45 p.m.
“This team has a good foundation and something to build off of,” Soares said.
Soares expects senior defender Cade McManus and senior forward Andrew Singleton to lead Rumson’s rise to respectability this fall. But other than those two, Rumson’s lineup and varsity squad is filled with younger players who will be in the program for at least two more years.
Some may even become standouts this year. Junior midfielder Evan Quan, junior midfielder Sean Allingham and sophomore midfielder Luke Pentikis stood out to Soares during his scouting missions last fall.
Quan and Allingham are smart players with two way ability. But Pentikis could become the program’s centerpiece.
“He’s definitely going to be a name for people to remember,” Soares said.
The coach is confident enough in this core to express it to outsiders. Rumson-Fair Haven is in the Shore Conference’s A Central Division with Holmdel and Manasquan, but Soares thinks the Bulldogs can contend for the title.
Rumson-Fair Haven’s 2018 season ended on Oct. 25, the date of its last game of the regular season. This year’s regular-season finale will also take place in October.
“We’re hoping to play into November,” Soares said. “I think we’ll be in the thick of things.”
The new coach is keeping 30 players up on varsity to provide internal competition and depth. Soares is theorizing that if every player gets high level varsity training on a daily basis, they will develop faster and be more prepared to contribute on varsity, both this year and next year.
But Soares didn’t just take the Rumson-Fair Haven job for the next two years. He knows how passionate the communities are about its sports, and he wants to build a boys’ soccer infrastructure for years to come.
“Building a community soccer and club system is a goal of mine,” he said. “I want players to have played with each other before high school.”
“I know this community would do anything for its sports, and that’s a coach’s dream situation,” Soares added.