Clark coaches America's future soccer stars

by Benny Benton

WILSON, N.C. – While America was being captivated by men's World Cup play, Barton College women's soccer coach Todd Clark was busy training the players who might soon represent the United States in future women's World Cup or Olympic competitions.

Clark recently finished two weeks of work as a member of the coaching staff for Region III of the Olympic Development Program (ODP) for the United States Youth Soccer Association. The Region III camp, held in Montevallo, Ala., brought together some 450 players from throughout the Southeast, each representing a state team. From that group, 18 players in each age group were chosen to make up the Regional Team and compete for a spot on the U.S. National/Olympic team.

"I think it's important from the perspective of giving back to the game," Clark said. "Most of the coaches that I've been lucky enough to have been affiliated with have that in mind. They want to help grow the game in our country. It was a really cool time to be there because the World Cup was on, so you got to experience it as a coach but also see the excitement of the fans. It was also the 15th anniversary of the 1999 World Cup title for the women, which was a real strong boost in the arm for the game."   

In his role, Clark was assigned state teams to help train and counsel through four practice sessions and game days. He did so while evaluating those players to determine if any were talented enough to be considered for the next level.

The first week, Clark worked with the 2000 (birth year) teams from Georgia and Oklahoma, in the process taking note of a player from the Peach State that he said, barring injury, would no doubt be on the international stage one day.

"Ultimately, these are the kids who we will see on TV one day, and I coached one of them," Clark said.  "She was absolutely lights out. Even in that group, with the best of the best, she was the best kid in camp and will undoubtedly go on and represent the country in the Olympics and the play for the National Team."

The second week, one of the groups he instructed was the 1998 team from North Carolina, which could be significant for his Barton program.

"As a college coach, recruiting is such a big part of what we do," Clark said. "We're constantly identifying and keeping track of talent, so to be in an ODP environment is extremely helpful." 

Clark has served with Region III for several years, and at times has also participated in the National Training Week in Arizona. In doing so, Clark has been able to work alongside many of the nation's best coaches, most of them from the NCAA Division I power conferences.

"I've been very fortunate that Chris Petrucelli, who won a national championship at Notre Dame, coached at Texas and now SMU, coached the National Team for our country, is head of Region III and has kindly had me involved with that event, National Training Week and some other things," Clark said. "It's been a really broad spectrum of experiences and a lot of fun."

Closer to home, Clark has done several Spring Training Events in Raleigh with the 1999 and 2000 Region Teams, and he serves as the coach for the Developmental Age Group (2002), which held its final event last month right here in Wilson at Gillette Park.

"It's important for us to get involved with the young kids too," Clark said. "Someone worked with me when I was eight years old and that's how I got to where I am today."

Clark will begin practice with his Barton team on August 19. The Lady Bulldogs will hold the first of two home scrimmage matches on Friday, Aug. 22, and will open their 2014 season on Thursday, Sept. 4, at Methodist University.