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Middle grad’s pro soccer career on hold after just one game


On March 7, Joe Fala walked onto the pitch at Montclair State University Soccer Park as a professional soccer player for the first time.

The Middle Township High School graduate hasn’t played since.

Fala, following a record-setting career at Division III Ramapo College, signed with the New York Red Bulls II of the United Soccer League (USL) Championship, the second tier of the American soccer pyramid, one step below Major League Soccer (MLS).

He started and played all 90 minutes at center back in the Red Bulls’ 1-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rowdies.


That was the final action for Fala and his team. The USL Championship, like MLS and virtually every other sports league, has suspended operations in response to concerns of the spread of the coronavirus.

“Right now, there isn’t much we can do, except to become 100 percent healthy for when it all starts back up again,” Fala said in a recent telephone interview. “We can work on tactics and what we want to do each game and work on our fitness. We’re still able to do our training but I’m not entirely sure how long that’s going to last.”

Fala, 22, was a three-sport athlete at Middle Township, excelling in soccer, basketball and tennis. Upon graduation in 2016, he went to Ramapo simply hoping to get his education in business and enjoy a nice soccer career.

“I was just playing for fun back then,” Fala said. “I got to the college level and I knew I was going to have to put a lot of work in to play and get the minutes I wanted. I knew my level of play had to go up a little bit.”

His level of play went up more than just a little bit. Fala, who grew to 6-7 after leaving high school at 6-4, developed into one of the best players in Ramapo history. A two-time Division III All-American and New Jersey Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year selection, Fala scored 48 goals and posted 17 assists in 75 games played over his career. He set a single-season record for goals scored with 27 as a junior in 2018 and also holds the Ramapo record with 19 game-winning goals.

Fala’s impressive college career quickly caught the eyes of professional scouts.

“The first two years of my college career I never really thought about pro soccer,” Fala said. “Then after my junior year, yes, it kind of came into my radar pretty quickly. I was being told by a lot of people to look into it. I got scouted by the Red Bulls and a few other teams.”

Fala was invited to participate in the MLS winter college combine in December and was eligible for selection in the MLS Draft in January. Fala was not selected but quickly signed a tryout contract with the Red Bulls II shortly after the draft.

Fala obviously did well in the tryout, not only making the team but starting and playing all 90 minutes in the lone game held so far this season. He also started all four of the team’s exhibition matches.

Fala is making the transition from trying to score goals to trying to prevent them. Mostly a striker during his college career, the Red Bulls II are trying to develop him as a center back who, thanks to his size, can still move forward and be an offensive threat off set pieces.

“Joe is a guy that we saw in our combine and he sparked our interest,” head coach John Wolyniec said in a story on the Ramapo athletics website. “He has done nothing but exceed expectations since then. We are developing him as a center back, but his work rate and athleticism make him interesting at multiple positions.”

Fala has some experience as a defender. He played the position last year with FC Motown of the National Premier Soccer League, an amateur league for college players with aspirations of eventually playing at the pro level.

“I honestly thought it would be easier to make it to the pro level as a center back than as a forward,” Fala said. “My skill set and the type of things I can do on the ball are probably more (suited) for a center back.”

Fala hopes, whenever the Red Bulls II return to play, he can continue to improve. Like most players in the USL Championship, Fala’s goal is to eventually earn the chance to play in MLS. The Red Bulls II are essentially a minor league affiliate of the New York Red Bulls of MLS.

Fala is currently signed to a one-year contract with a team option for a second year.

“This organization, they love to move guys up through their system,” Fala said. “My next goal would be to sign an MLS contract with the Red Bulls or with somebody else after this year.”

Fala has proven that players don’t necessarily have to play at the highest levels of college soccer to earn a professional opportunity.

“You don’t have to go to a top-tier college to make it to the pro level,” he said. “You just have to perform and they’ll come see you. I tried to put in the work in the four years of my college career and here I am.”

Fala scored 46 goals during his high school soccer career at Middle. He also was an outstanding singles player for the tennis team, helping the Panthers win the South Jersey championship as a senior, and was a starter for the boys basketball team as a senior.