Clarks On Collision Course In NCAA College Cup

Written by Ian Thomson

Former Aberdeen and Scotland goalkeeper Bobby Clark begins his latest quest to capture America’s college soccer championship Sunday night with a well-known adversary lurking in the same half of the 48-team draw.

Clark’s Notre Dame side earned the No. 3 seed for the NCAA tournament after an impressive season that saw the Fighting Irish suffering one loss in 19 games. That sets up a potential semi-final clash with the University of Washington, the No. 2 seed coached by Clark’s youngest son Jamie.

The father-and-son duo has over 40 years of college soccer experience between them and a host of individual and team honors, yet neither man has lifted the prestigious national prize.

Notre Dame head coach Bobby Clark (Photo: Ian Thomson)
Notre Dame head coach Bobby Clark (Photo: Ian Thomson)

“About 20 teams can win the national championship this year,” Bobby told The Soccer Observer in a telephone interview.

“It’s so competitive, and in one-off games it takes a little bit of luck.”

The Clarks steered their respective teams to league titles earlier this month in two of the college game’s toughest conferences. Notre Dame finished joint-top of the Atlantic Coast Conference while Washington won the Pacific-12 Conference. They jointly held the distinction at one point of boasting the only unbeaten records among over 200 Division I schools.

Jamie, the youngest of Clark’s three children, played for his father’s Stanford team that reached the 1998 College Cup Final. He was an assistant coach when New Mexico finished as runners-up in 2005 after an injury curtailed his brief playing career in Major League Soccer.

The pair was reunited when Aberdeen-born Jamie joined Notre Dame’s coaching staff in 2006. He accepted his first head coaching role at Harvard two years later and has been with Seattle-based Washington since 2011. A semi-final meeting on Dec. 13, Jamie’s 37th birthday, would mark the first meeting between the Clarks in a competitive game.

“I know Notre Dame a bit better than most and they’ll know us a bit better,” Jamie told The Soccer Observer in a telephone interview.

“If we play them, it becomes a little bit about game plan and a lot about playing well on the day.”

Notre Dame has become a production line of talent since the elder Clark, 68, joined the program in 2001. MLS teams have drafted more players from the school than any other over the past five years. Striker Bright Dike scored for Nigeria in a 2-2 tie with Italy earlier this week. American defender Matt Besler has become an integral part of Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team.

MLS clubs have also approached Clark throughout the years, particularly during his time at Stanford in the late 1990s. He rebuffed all offers after weighing up the job satisfaction he receives from coaching and developing young players.

Clark was studying to become a physical education teacher at Glasgow’s Jordanhill College when he followed his former Queen’s Park manager Eddie Turnbull to Aberdeen in 1965.  His contract included a clause allowing him to teach in the afternoon after training with the team in the morning.

“You learned a lot about handling youngsters in a positive way,” Clark said. “And it was good for me when I was playing because it kept me grounded.”

It was during a teaching stint at Aberdeen’s Harlaw Academy that Clark discovered a left-footed player named David Robertson that later broke into the Dons’ first team under Alex Ferguson. The former Rangers and Scotland full-back now coaches in Phoenix. His son, Mason, scored the goal that clinched the Pac-12 Conference title for Jamie Clark’s Washington team last week.

Notre Dame and Washington must both overcome three difficult opponents before the Clarks can set their sights on each other in the semi-final.

“It doesn’t sound like much, but somehow it really is,” Jamie said. “A lot of games are decided on golden goals or penalties, so it’s the slightest of margins.

“But it will be a great time if we meet because it will mean one of us is getting to the national final.”

 

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