Sports

Red Bulls Give Clark’s Career Wings

soccerIt has been a roller coaster ride for MU alum Ryan Clark. After a stellar career for the Hawks that included four All-NEC nominations, three Regional All-American selections and three NCAA Tournament appearances, Clark was drafted with the first overall pick of the Major League Soccer (MLS) Supplemental Draft by the New York Red Bulls.

“I’m very excited to get drafted by my home town team, the New York Red Bulls,” Clark said. “They were my absolute first choice of teams I wanted to go to.”

He was initially named an alternate to participate in the MLS Combine, just missing out on the 54 invitees. However, soon before Christmas Clark received a phone call from a representative of the MLS and was formally invited to the combine in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He immediately made an impact and began turning some heads while his draft stock skyrocketed.

“Once I found out I got invited, I worked out twice a day, probably around four hours a day, trying to get my fitness back because I knew it was a great opportunity for me and I wanted to make sure I took full advantage of it,” Clark said.

There were three matches at the combine, where Clark was on the pitch with some of the nation’s top prospects. Graduating from a small school, many of the scouts, coaches, and general managers hadn’t seen Clark play in person. This was his chance to show everyone the type of player he was.

Coming off the bench in the first match, he nearly scored the game winner by curling a left-footed ball off the crossbar and over the net. He would go on to play the full 90 minutes in the next two matches.

Clark learned to play quicker and realized there wasn’t much time to relax when on the field. The games were played at such a fast pace, Clark said he had to step up his game but didn’t feel any pressure that would normally come from being in that situation.

“A lot of people get nervous coming here in front of all these people but I feel like that’s only going to make you play worse so I basically just blanked out and tried to stay focused,” recalled Clark.

His name appeared on multiple mock drafts as the MLS SuperDraft was quickly approaching. He was featured in an article on MLSsoccer.com and was receiving nothing but positive vibes from the teams and people around him. Despite the impressions he made at the combine, his name wasn’t called in the MLS SuperDraft on Thursday, January 17. He had to wait until Tuesday, January 22, when the third and fourth rounds, now called the Supplemental Draft, were going to take place.

There wasn’t much of a wait for Clark to see his name on the screen, receiving the first overall selection. And it came as a surprise.

“They actually did not call me before the draft. I had no idea they were going to pick me at number one, so when my name popped up, I basically started going crazy,” said Clark. “I was watching it with my dad and I lost my mind. It was snowing at the time and I sprinted outside barefoot through my front lawn.”

Clark then got on a plane on his way to pre-season training in Bradenton, Florida, where he is working with the team and getting in shape for the upcoming season. He was approached by Tim Cahill, a candidate for team captain, and has been welcomed with open arms by everyone he’s met. Fans of the Red Bulls are already reaching out via Twitter and Facebook to welcome Clark to their team. For Clark, he still has to earn a contract and roster spot.

“Nothing is set in stone,” said Clark. “I still have to prove my worth and earn a contract here. I have to go all out every single day and prove that I belong on this team. I’m not officially on the team yet.”

Hard work and dedication have enabled Clark to reach the level he is at today.

There is a chip on his shoulder after initially getting overlooked for the combine and then getting passed up in the SuperDraft. That all adds fuel to the fire and while he’s excited about the opportunity he’s presented with, Clark is looking forward to proving he deserves to be on the Red Bulls.

Though Clark is set to start a new chapter in his life, he is very delighted by his time as a Hawk. During his years at MU, he emerged into a leader on and off the field and has nothing but praise for his coaches. He credits head coach Robert McCourt and assistants Hugh MacDonald and Evan Unger for developing him into the player he has become.

“I just want to thank all the players I’ve played with, the coaching staff; I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am today without them,” Clark said. “These last four years we’ve made some noise and won games. If we don’t win games, I don’t get noticed so I have them to thank for that.”

“I want to thank my family and friends back home that have been messaging me, calling me every day. All the support has been amazing and I want to thank everyone.”

Right now, Clark’s immediate goal is to win a spot on the roster. His ultimate goal is to win a starting job.