Publication Date: Friday Aug 6, 1999
PRO SOCCER: He doesn't play like a rookieStanford grad Jamie Clark is making solid contributions as a starter for the San Jose Clash
by Keith Peters
As a rookie defender for the San Jose Clash soccer team, Jamie Clark should be riding the bench, biding his time and learning by watching. That's what rookies ordinarily do. Clark, however, is no ordinary rookie.
After leading his Stanford teammates into the 1998 NCAA championship game against Indiana last December, Clark was selected in the second round of the Major League Soccer draft in February.
One month later, following a great preseason at camps in San Diego and Mexico, Clark made his pro debut on opening night--as a starter. And he hadn't even graduated from Stanford yet.
All this, as its been said, flys in the face of conventional thinking.
"It's very unusual," said Brian Quinn, head coach of the Clash. "All our projections, when we draft guys out of college, is the first year basically is developmental."
Clark, however, is developing through on-the-job training. He has played in all 20 matches this season, one of only four Clash players to do so. That streak, however, will end Saturday when the Clash (11-9) plays host to the Los Angeles Galaxy (12-8) in a crucial Western Conference match in San Jose's Spartan Stadium at 7:30 p.m.
Clark will sit this one out while serving a one-game suspension for accumulating yellow card caution points.
"For a defender, if you're playing day in and day out, it's hard not to accumulate those points," said Clark, who'll miss quite a homecoming Saturday.
In addition to having his parents and former Stanford teammates in the stands, Clark will miss playing against friend and ex-Cardinal Simon Elliott, a rookie midfielder with the Galaxy.
"I called him up Sunday night, just to tell him he was lucky that he wouldn't have to face me on the field," Clark said with a laugh. "We both would have been in the midfield together. He would have been on our top midfielder and I would have been on their top midfielder."
Clark, however, should get that opportunity on Sept. 1 when the Clash visit the Galaxy.
"Hopefully, I'll be in that one," Clark said. "I'll be really smart until then."
That, says Quinn, shouldn't be a problem.
"Above everything else, Jamie has a soccer saavy that people his age (22) usually don't get until they've played two or three years (as a pro)," Quinn said. "Probably, it has a lot to do being around the game at a high level for a long time--through his dad and his family."
Clark, of course, was raised in a soccer family. His father, Bobby, played and coached in Scotland, then coached Jamie to All-America honors at Stanford. Jamie's brother, Tommy, played for Bobby at Dartmouth while his sister, Jen, is the women's head soccer coach at Christopher Newport College in Newport News, Va.
Quinn, however, said Jamie's development goes beyond growing up in that environment.
"He (Jamie) has to take a lot of the credit for that, because you have to want to watch soccer games," Quinn said. "You have to want to play and learn, kind of be a student of the game. And he was."
Given Clark's roots in the game, Bobby isn't too surprised at his son's accomplishments this season.
"He's always been around good players and a good team," Bobby said. "He was well-prepared."
"I was very confident coming in, because I was just playing in college and I felt very comfortable," Jamie said.
Being drafted by the Clash, just down the road from the house in Palo Alto that he shares with fellow Stanford grad Adam Siegman, also contributed to Jamie's quick development and allowed him to finish up his classes at Stanford while getting his pro career under way.
Clark even got to attend graduation ceremonies on June 12, because the clash had a home game that night against the Tampa Bay Mutiny.
"So," Clark said, "its been perfect. Having Brian as my coach turned out to be great. He's given five young guys a legitimate chance to play and show themselves.
"A lot of coaches will draft guys, really not give them a chance and they'll be sitting on the bench and get waived later on. Brian said, 'Hey, I drafted you. I want you guys to be my players. And he's given us chance. You can't ask for anything more."
Quinn said it wasn't a matter of going with a youth movement to build a foundation for the future.
"The focus of this team is winning," he said. "Irrespective of age and experience, it's more to do with ability and merit. And the young guys are playing because they deserve it."
Clark's versatility also has been a factor in his playing time. He's played as many as four different positions for the Clash.
"That is also very unusual," Quinn noted, "not just for a player, but a young player. I felt I needed to keep him in the team, even though at times I don't play him at his best position."
Clark said the biggest difference between college and the pros is the formation that San Jose plays.
"We play a different formation here," Clark said. "I had never played as a marking back before I got here. There's also much better competition. As a defender, you see it. You're matched up against these strikers--these guys are legitimate players--and all of a sudden, if you make a mistake, you do pay for it. You learn that your mistakes are capitalized on."
Clark recalled his first game with the Clash against the Chicago Fire.
"A guy broke through," Clark remembered. "Had I tackled him, we might have stopped a goal. He slipped by me. You can't let that happen."
While Clark pretty much has held his own on the field, he's still reminded of his rookie status off it by his veteran teammates.
"They definitely make you aware of your place sometimes," Clark said. "there hasn't been any real rookie pranks yet, which I really shouldn't even say because that just brings it up. But, as far as being a young guy, you realize your place on the team.
"Off the field, there's a pecking order, for sure," Clark continued. "On bus rides, in the locker room. As compared to last year when I'd be a lot more rambunctious and loud, now I take a little bit of a back seat."
Except on bus rides, when the veterans claim the seats in the back and let the rookies sit up front.
"And you've still got to carry the balls and move the goals," Clark said of the daily grind following practices.
Living in Palo Alto and having his folks at Stanford, however, has made the transition to the professional level all the more easy for Clark.
"It was nice to be able to continue to stay in Palo Alto, because that's where a lot of our friends still live," Clark said. "And I go home once in a while, see if I can sneak my laundry in. My mom's still happy to have me. I'm the baby of the bunch. To have me still close to home is nice for her."
And for dad, who still enjoys sitting down with his son and talking soccer--like they did during Jamie's days at Stanford.
"In a funny way, he probably critiques me harder now," Jamie said. "He watches every game on TV, so he'll definitely critique me. Before, at Stanford, it was a team he'd be critiquing and I was just a part of it. Now, he'll do it more personally."
Bobby, however, says he doesn't bring up soccer like before unless Jamie wants to talk about it.
"I really let him talk to me now," Bobby said. "When I was the coach, I'd pretty much start the conversation. Now, when he comes to me and initiates the conversation, I obviously put my two cents in. But, you have to be careful now. Before, it was for the good of the team. Now, he just has to feel his way a little more."
Good or bad, Jamie takes the conversations with his father to heart.
"He tells me things I do wrong. He definitely points out the negatives. But he mostly questions, like 'what happened here.'" Jamie said. "But, it's good. I'm happy to hear it. You can never get enough information. I have so much to learn."
Spoken like a rookie, an extraordinary one at that.