Fighting Irish Duo Credit Clark For MLS Draft Success

Written by Ian Thomson
University of Notre Dame graduate Ryan Finley was selected by Columbus Crew during last week’s MLS SuperDraft (Photo: Ian Thomson)

INDIANAPOLIS – Ryan Finley experienced an unforgettable moment last Thursday when Columbus Crew selected him with the ninth pick of the Major League Soccer SuperDraft. The University of Notre Dame graduate’s name reverberated around the Sagamore Ballroom at the Indiana Convention Center as a rabble of traveling Crew fans chanted their support of the team’s newest player.

Finley’s fond farewell from the Fighting Irish was in contrast to his contentious exit from Duke University after his sophomore season two years earlier. The Lumberton, N.J. native had notched 17 goals in 18 games for the Blue Devils in 2010 to lead the nation in goals per game as the NCAA Tournament neared. Three hat-tricks had propelled Finley to a share of Duke’s single-season goals record and the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year.

Duke’s first-round clash with Coastal Carolina in the national championship was just hours away when the school’s sports department issued a stunning announcement:

“Duke University men’s soccer head coach John Kerr announced on Thursday, Nov. 18 that sophomore forward Ryan Finley has been suspended indefinitely for violation of team rules, effective immediately.”

Immaturity had marred Finley’s freshman and sophomore years in Durham, N.C., the 21-year-old confessed backstage at last week’s SuperDraft event. Fortunately for the striker, Notre Dame head coach Bobby Clark was willing to take a chance on his playing talents.

“It was the right move for me to switch schools and I really grew as a person at Notre Dame,” Finley told The Soccer Observer. “A lot of that is due to coach Clark. As he made me a better soccer player, he also made me a better person, more importantly.

“I’m very blessed to have played for him and to have had him in my life.”

Notre Dame duo Brendan King and Dillon Powers knew Finley through training camps for the United States U-17 and U-20 youth teams, and they had impressed him with their tales about their school’s program. Their assurances to the legendary Scottish coach convinced Clark to resolve Finley’s impasse with a transfer to South Bend, Ind.

Finley scored the only goal against his former school when the sides met at Notre Dame last August.

Powers followed Finley onto the SuperDraft stage Thursday when Colorado Rapids selected him with the 11th pick. The midfielder also attributed his development as a player and as a person to his mentor at Notre Dame.

“You can get caught up in a Bobby Clark story really easily,” Powers told The Soccer Observer. “He has a bank of wisdom. You learn by being around him.”

Clark’s stories commonly refer to his time as a goalkeeper at Aberdeen, according to Powers. The Dons ended Celtic and Rangers’ 15-year dominance of the Scottish championship in 1980 when a young Alex Ferguson led his team of upstarts to the Premier Division title. A 5-0 win at Hibernian’s Easter Road stadium sealed the trophy, and Ferguson sprinted onto the field in celebration before jumping into Clark’s arms. It proved to be the veteran goalkeeper’s last season as a player. A back injury and the emergence of future Scotland stopper Jim Leighton kept Clark on the sidelines until his retirement in 1982.

“He’s not an intense guy, but he really tries to instill core lessons into his players,” Powers said. “Over four years he does a good job of that.

“He taught me how to be a pro not just on the field but a lot of things off the field as well.”