The University of Washtington just hired a new Head Coach. It is a coach with connections to the Seattle Sounders, and one that seems to want those connections to be as strong as they possibly can be. As in the other football, he clearly sees his number one goal to put up a fence around the state and keep every great player at here, while picking up good players from around the country, as well. His goal is simple: just be one of the greatest college soccer programs in the country.
Coach Jamie Clark (no relation) and I talked about why he took the position here after a year at Creighton and a few years at Harvard, the potentials for relationships with the Sounders and the passion for soccer at all levels in the greater Puget Sound. It should be noted that the University of Washington is one of many schools that I have attended.
Dave Clark: I thought to just talk to you today about the Huskies and why you decided to take this opportunity here in Seattle.
Coach Jamie Clark: I think long term this can be a program that can more than compete, as well as the city's relationship with the program - the sport, the facility and obviously the record - all of those pieces coming together. The Sounders have shown that soccer in this city, if done correctly, and other sports have shown it at U-dub, that it can succeed. You've got the sort of resources of a huge athletic department at your fingertips and there's really nothing you are lacking. To add to that I should say that there's a student body that if you mobilize the passion about their school you have all the makings of a great program. For some reason that hasn't happened here, but it's my goal to make that happen.
DC: The Husky soccer program has done a decent job at producing MLS players. It seems that the ACC, the Pac-10 [soon 12] and pockets of scattered schools in other conferences have produced MLS talent. You, yourself, have some experience with that as well. Do you see that as part of your goal or is that as a result of having a great program?
Coach Clark: I think that it is a combination of things. In order to produce a lot of great players you have to have a great program with competition. But you also have to bring in the right players in the first place. The program will produce some players, but at the same time special players coming into the program are usually going to be special players coming out of the program. You have to bring in the great ones.
With two Academy teams here, with the Sounders watching over player development, you have a great recruiting ability because kids want to be pros. They want to be in and around MLS teams. That's something that we have in our backyard.
DC: You mentioned recruiting, and you didn't really have the opportunity to recruit for this class. These are guys that made their decision long before you were involved, but you did get two recruits, one of them being from the Sounders in Drew White. How much do you know about him already?
Coach Clark: I have seen him play twice. He's a tough competitor, a ball winner. I think he's going to keep getting better as he becomes more polished as a player. We're excited about getting him here. The nice thing is that you know he will develop every day he can be up at training with the Sounders. He's surrounded by good players, and he'll get coached by the Sounders Academy. So we know that in six months time he'll be that much further along so we're very excited about him.
DC: The other football at Washington's recruiting philosphy for decades now has been "keep everybody in the state at home" and then pick up guys primarily from Southern California. Do you think that is the soccer recruiting strategy in the long term?
Coach Clark: Definitely. I was disappointed to arrive and see so many players sign outside of the state. At the same time they had committed and I didn't want to step on toes. I think our job, my job, is to get the culture and product as such that those kids are all dying to play here, so that it is an honor to play here. When we get to where I think things can be they will be fighting for spots.
DC: The Huskies have a tradition with the "minor" collegiate sports, with softball, with baseball, volleyball, competing at a high level. It would seem to be a university that puts a lot of effort into its other programs with more balance than a typical major conference university. You mentioned that as being part of why you made this choice. What are the next steps to getting fans to show up?
Coach Clark: You have a couple steps. From a performance level our boys peer group are the volleyball team, the softball team, the cross-country team, the women's soccer team. They have all acheived at a greater level than us at this point. They don't have to look far for good role models. I think that's very important. It shows that it is possible for us. Not only is it possible, but it should be happening here.
That's the first thing. The standard is all around you.
As far as the student body, they expect great results. They expect to support teams that are high performing. We have to get there. Once we do we will get the support we deserve. But we have to earn every bit we get. There's good teams here that have done it in the past, but we have to get back to that level.
DC: I can't think of many univerisities with as many ties to their local MLS team [Clark played in college with Taylor Graham and Roger Levesque, and coached Mike Fucito] as you have, and now with the connections to the Sounders Academy throughout our conversation. In some ways the college soccer game can be a bridge between the Academy and the pro ranks where you can add development and an education beyond the game. It's an exciting time and new era not just for the University of Washington but also for the way MLS is operating. Do you see a partnership between you and the team at some levels where you are talking about local talents either in the Academy or not, for another ear that you can scout alongside?
Coach Clark: There's two things here. The college aspect of development is huge and important. I think Sigi being an old college coach understands that and appreciates it. But kids in college they mature, beyond just the classroom or getting better as players. They actually grow up and grow into themselves, bridging that gap so that they can handle themselves as pro players.
Just as much with the connection between the Sounders and Huskies, I talked to Sigi a few times while looking at this job and it was very important to me to get his take on the school and connections between the program. It was huge for me. He wants the best players at the University of Washington so that he, or someone on his staff, can watch them week-in and week-out. They can be watched and seen developing. That's huge for him, for the Sounders, and its huge for us and our players that want to be professionals because they know that they are getting proper attention along the way. It can be a symbiotic relationship, I guess, and a good one for us for sure.
Of course, there are limits as to how closely the Sounders and Huskies can work together. But with new way the Academies, College and MLS work together, the University of Washington is primed to be a component in American soccer development.