When Joe Fala went into college, he was a three-sport athlete at Middle Township High School.
But he put tennis and basketball in his rearview mirror and focused solely on soccer. He stayed on that road, and it’s led him to an opportunity to play professional soccer.
Fala has made the preseason roster for the Red Bulls II, a top-level development team for Major League Soccer’s New York Red Bulls.
“I’m trying to stay optimistic but I feel pretty confident,” said Fala, a 2016 graduate.
The Red Bulls II play in the United Soccer League Championship Division, which is the league just under the MLS. USL League One and League Two are further divisions below the Championship League, so Fala is entering the fray as a high-level contender, but he’s still yet to make the regular-season roster.
“I’m basically a trialist,” Fala explained. “We go to Virginia next week for training, (play) the Richmond Kickers next Saturday, back to North Jersey to play New England Revolution and then we play the Tampa Bay Rowdies (on) March 7, to open the season.”
The 22-year-old Cape May Court House resident has spent the past four years making a name for himself at NCAA Division III Ramapo College in Mahwah, Bergen County, where he’s now a senior.
The 6-foot-7 forward led Ramapo with 15 goals and six assists and was named the New Jersey Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
In 2018, he scored a program-record 27 goals, including 11-game-winning goals. He helped the Roadrunners make their first ever D-III tournament appearance.
Fala, who graduates this spring with a business administration degree focused in marketing, has been playing soccer his whole life.
“At first I was a three-sport athlete, so it was seasonal,” Fala said. “I had to choose one going into college, so I chose soccer, because it gave me great joy, and I loved all the teams (I’d played on). I would never be here without all the guys I’ve played with.”
Current Middle Township coach Matt Gilbert was an assistant when Fala played for longtime coach John Maher, who since retired. Gilbert spent a lot of time with Fala, also coaching him in tennis, and he’s not surprised at his most recent success.
“He’s one of the most dedicated players I’ve seen over the last 17 years coaching,” Gilbert said. “He was always first to the field and last to leave. He comes back in the offseason and trains with the guys, gives back. Watching him achieve his goals is amazing. I’m extremely proud of him.”
The Red Bulls 2, whose home field is at Montclair State University in Essex County, will likely make some cuts over the next three weeks, but Fala doesn’t plan on being one of them.
“I hope I perform well, play well,” Fala said. “(I’ll) train everyday, whatever it may take to make the team and last the whole season.”
If the next three weeks go well, Fala expects to announce he’s signing a USL pro contract. He’d like to stay stateside and eventually make it into the MLS.
“It takes a lot of focus and drive to get to the next level,” he said.