Ryan Clark can be forgiven for a temporary lack of judgment. On the coldest day of the year, he was running around his front yard in his bare feet. It was for a pretty good reason.
The Monmouth University soccer star had just learned he was drafted by the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer (MLS) in the Supplemental Draft on Jan. 22.
“I was watching the draft online at home when I found out the Red Bulls had drafted me,” said Clark. “I stood up and sprinted out the front door in snow in my bare feet. I was shocked.”
Clark, a Freehold Township High School graduate, said he was “clueless” and had “no idea” that the Red Bulls were going to draft him. It was the best of both worlds for the Monmouth standout.
“They (Red Bulls) were my first choice,” he said. “They’re my favorite team. I’ve gone to their games and know all their players.”
Clark won’t have to worry about running around in his bare feet. The next day he was off to Sarasota, Fla., for the Red Bulls’ training camp.
“I’m excited to be here,” he said from the camp before heading off to his first practice with the club. “It’s an honor to be on the same field with these guys.”
Among the Red Bulls players is legendary striker Thierry Henry, who led France to the World Cup in 1998 and is Arsenal’s all-time leading scorer.
Clark is the latest in a line of former Hawks drafted and now playing in the MLS. Ryan Kinne (New England), R.J. Allen (Chivas USA) and Bryan Meredith (Seattle), whom he played with, are also in the league. He turned to them for advice.
“I talked to my friend R.J. and Kinne and they said to go all out and have no regrets,” said Clark, adding that they told him no matter what drill the team does, “try to win everything.”
It’s been quite a journey for Clark, who began his rise to prominence at Freehold Township, where he led the Patriots to the Shore Conference Tournament and A North Division titles his senior year. He was the Shore Conference Player of the Year and First Team All-State.
He chose Monmouth, he said, because under head coach Robert McCourt, “they had something going and I wanted to jump on board.”
Clarke did more than jump on board; he helped steer the ship to its greatest success. The Hawks made the NCAA Tournament three consecutive years, which included a pair of trips to the second round. Those years included three consecutive Northeast Conference (NEC) regular-season and tournament championships.
Honors came Clark’s way from the start. He was a four-time All-NEC pick and three times a Regional All-American. He was named to the preseason MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List (college soccer’s Heisman Trophy). A midfielder, he scored 15 goals and dished out 25 assists during his career. He had a habit of making his goals count, with nine of them counting as game winners, including three this past season. “I’m so happy I went to Monmouth,” he said. “It’s an elite program. I played with some great players and for great coaches. It’s definitely the reason I’m here.”
McCourt was happy that Clark chose to be a member of the Hawks, as well.
“This is wonderful news for Ryan,” said McCourt in a university press release. “He has handled himself like a young professional in his four years here at Monmouth.
“He is the epitome of the term studentathlete,” he added. “He graduated a semester early with a 3.8 GPA. He has been a role model for his teammates on and off the field.”
Freehold Township head coach Todd Briggs said that Clark had the same impact for the Patriots.
“What he means to the (Freehold Township) program is immeasurable,” Briggs said. “He is a local celebrity now and a legend in our program’s history.
“The young players coming into the program are in a state of awe when he arrives at a practice or a game to watch the team and his younger brother (Keith) play,” the coach added. “Everyone knows who (Ryan Clark) is, and every player from Freehold wants to be what he is some day. He provides the youth of the community with a positive role model who made it because of hard work and self-confidence.”
Clark was invited to participate in the MLS combine (Jan. 11-15) with the best college players in the country under the watchful eyes of MLS coaches and scouts. It was six days of playing soccer and participating in fitness tests, such as the 40- yard dash and vertical jump.
“I had the attitude I belonged there and I felt I played as good as anyone,” Clark said.
He sized things up well, as the Red Bulls took Clark with the first pick of the third round.
Clark hasn’t forgotten his roots and believes that playing soccer in Freehold Township and the Shore area is also responsible for his being in the MLS.
“There are a lot of good players in the area and a lot of good coaches,” he said. “A lot of them helped me get there (MLS).”
As Briggs remarked, Freehold area players have their role model.