Homecoming For Washington's Clark

By Brian Price

Jamie Clark, Washington men's soccer first-year head coach, has a picture* on his desk. At first glance, it looks like any collegiate soccer game on a dilapidated field.

But for Clark the photo speaks volumes.

"That field looks like a cow pasture, but it's a great [embodiment] of how college soccer works," Clark says. "The season, for every team, starts in August in beautiful weather but come December, when the picture is taken, it's a competitive fight. The weather's not good and there's not a flat piece of grass left on the field. The picture, to me, speaks to the joys of soccer, but also the heart and fight one needs to be successful and win big games late in the season."

These are the lessons Clark took away from his days as a player at Stanford, where he became the team's first ever first-team All-American. He was coached by his father Bobby Clark, and is now working to instill the same values in his players at Washington.

After college, Clark also became the first Cardinal player to be drafted by an MLS team and spent two seasons playing for the San Jose Earthquakes. However, the dream of being a pro was short-lived because of injuries. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise.

"I got into coaching during a time when I was still trying to figure out if I still had a playing career," explains Clark, who was offered an assistant job at the University of New Mexico in 2002. "I loved being on the field and teaching my guys with my boots on every day. I was a youthful coach. I had a lot of energy and that's [a major part] of how I relate to my players: fast-paced, exciting soccer and having fun. That's what players respond to. That's my brand."

The Lobos went 61-16-8 during the four seasons that Clark was an assistant under Jeremy Fishbein in Albuquerque. The success also included a trip to the 2005 NCAA national championship game.

Clark had found his calling in life and from New Mexico moved on to assist his father at Notre Dame. Together they led the Irish to a cumulative record of 29-11-7 over the course of two seasons.

"[My dad] always told me to be true to myself and my coaching style," Clark says. "For anyone to be successful at what they do, for a long time, they have to enjoy it. My style is different [from his] but it works for me and fits who I am."

Clark took his fast-paced style first to Harvard as head coach. The Crimson went to the NCAA tournament in both his seasons at the helm and then he joined Creighton in 2010, where he led the Blue Jays to a 13-5-2 record.

After this remarkable run of success, he got the opportunity he had been waiting for: to be a head coach in to the Pac-12, the conference he considers to be the best in America.

"From top to bottom we're going to face a great opponent in every conference match-up," he says. "However, the difference between the bottom and top halves of the standings are teams that possess the ability to be ruthless and close out games. Every game is going to be close because every team is talented."

He knows his program is still a work in progress.

"I feel like we're close and the next three weeks will show how far we've come," says Clark, whose Huskies are currently 3rd of 6 in the conference standings. "We're trying to get to a point where we can really open [our style of play up]. Pressure, squeeze and move the ball. But we have to play to our ability level. Scoring beautiful goals is the dream, but along the way we have to maximize our ability [without trying to do to much] and giving away bad goals [ourselves]."

Washington's most recent contest was against Pac-12 foe and 24th ranked San Diego State.

"We were down a goal late and we found ways to get penalties in the box [that led to a score]. That was the game that pushed us over the edge," says Clark in discussing Washington's 3-2 over the Aztecs.

As far as returning to Palo Alto, now as an opponent, Clark sees his "homecoming" strictly from a Huskies point of view.  

"I would compare it to competing with a friend or a brother in the back yard," he says. "You never want to lose the games [against opponents] that you have strong ties to."

With seven games left in the regular season, and the Huskies at 6-3-2, there's little time to spare.

"We have enough that we can, right now, make a real push at a Pac-12 title and making an NCAA run. We realize that other teams may have more talented individuals," Clark says. "Our job is for the cumulative outcome…I believe we have the players and the psyche to accomplish that."

The Huskies take on the Cardinal on Friday at 7:00 p.m. in Palo Alto.

*The picture is of an NCAA tournament match between Dartmouth and Columbia in New Hampshire, where Dartmouth won to advance to the Elite Eight. That Dartmouth team was coached by Bobby Clark and featured Jeremy, Jamie's brother.

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