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Men’s Soccer: National footprint

Matthew DeFranks | Thursday, September 29, 2011

Plato once said, “You can learn more about a person in an hour of play than you can in a lifetime conversation.” Looks like Plato and Irish coach Bobby Clark have more in common than you may think.

Unlike Plato, however, Clark applies this principle to recruiting.

“I’m a big believer in watching someone play a sport,” Clark said. “You can watch the emotions, see how he is. You can pick up on his intensity. You can pick up on his determination. You can pick up on his discipline. You can see how he handles success and adversity. You can see it in his eyes.”

Clark has recruited successfully in guiding the No. 11 Irish (5-1-2) to a fast start, including a 1-0 win over then-No. 3 Louisville. In the upset win, junior forward Danny O’Leary scored off senior midfielder Adam Mena’s assist while senior Will Walsh anchored the goal and junior Grant Van De Casteele and seniors Greg Klazura, Aaron Maund and Michael Knapp contributed on defense.

Those seven key players for the Irish hail from five different states, a mark of Notre Dame’s national recruiting stamp. Clark attributes the national base to his myriad of contacts.

“When I was I Dartmouth, I made contacts on the East coast,” he said. “When I was at Stanford, I made contacts on the West coast. Now I am here in the Midwest. Dartmouth, Stanford and Notre Dame are all similar so I was recruiting the same players also.”

Clark made specific contacts in Massachusetts that helped land him two current players — Maund and sophomore forward Leon Brown. Paul Sugg, their high school coach at The Roxbury Latin School and Clark’s contact from his days at Dartmouth, recommended both players to Clark.

“When someone like Paul Sugg says they’re a good player, you listen,” Clark said. “You kind of develop certain pipelines.”

The Irish roster features players from 17 different states, reaching as far west as California and as far south as Texas.

Unlike football, where high school games are the main attraction, soccer recruiting focuses mainly on club teams, Clark said.

“That’s really where you do most of your recruiting,” he said. “A good club team will consist of the best players from four or five high schools in the area. It makes a lot of sense to go to club teams.”

If club teams are a bank vault of talent, consider the new Development Academy the Federal Reserve.

The Development Academy, run by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), takes some of the best clubs teams nationwide and partners them with the USSF to produce the next generation of National Team members.

Clark said the majority of the best players will be in the academy system, but there also remain viable substitutes such as clubs teams and high school squads.

“Most of the U.S. scouts will be there,” Clark said of the academy system. “They play 10 months of soccer. A lot of them don’t play for their high schools. I’m not sure about that, I think it’s good for kids to play for high schools.”

Some of the academy recruits even go straight to the pros, a concept Clark said does not fit with the Notre Dame imprint.

“A lot of kids wouldn’t be a good fit for Notre Dame,” he said. “The academic standard is high. They have to be a good fit personality wise. The have to know what Notre Dame is about. We are in a different market.”

The No. 11 Irish return to action Saturday when they face St. John’s in Jamaica, N.Y.