On September 7, the Major Arena Soccer League announced a massive three-team, six-player trade which saw the Kansas City Comets, San Diego Sockers and Tacoma Stars shake up their rosters. The Stars lost three defensive stalwarts to the Comets, but what they gained might be the bigger deal. The Stars added two players, Forward Matt Clare and Defender Milan Ivanovic.
Matt Clare grew up around the game, “always in the system,” as he puts it. His father, John Clare, played professionally in the United States for several teams, most notably the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Growing up, he played with Charlotte Soccer Club and the IMG Academy before joining the USL Premier Development League.
“I was always involved in soccer as a kid; my first word was probably ‘Ball.’ I always knew I wanted to play (professionally) and growing up I was already working on my signature. It was my lifestyle and I’m thankful I’m able to do it as a career.”
After signing as a professional and playing with the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Matt switched to indoor and went up the I-95, joining the Norfolk SharX.
“Being from Florida, you never really hear of indoor, mainly because it is too hot. After my year with the Rowdies, indoor kind of fell into my lap. A buddy knew an owner and got me connected with them. I scored five goals in a pre-season game, and was like, ‘Man, I like this game.’ I scored 20 goals in my rookie year and was chomping at the bit to get after it because it was so new to me. My soccer mind had been completely blown.”
From there, he had stints in Syracuse and Wichita before eventually landing in San Diego. With San Diego, Matt quickly became accustomed to being a key attacker on a dominant team, as the Sockers won the Pacific Division two straight seasons. Matt scored seventeen goals and recorded fifteen assists last season. He is no stranger to Tacoma, as six of those goals and seven assists came at the Stars’ expense. However, he’s quick to point out the ambition that the Stars have shown to become the best.
“The ownership wants to bring a title to Tacoma. I don’t think any other team is working as hard as we are. We started practicing a couple weeks early. We played our first pre-season game as San Diego was gathering for their first practice. The training has been difficult but has been high level and a lot of fun.”
In addition to the change from being on a team at the top to the team trying to knock them off their championship perch, Clare has noticed a few distinct differences from San Diego to Tacoma.
“It’ll be different not being in the sunshine all the time, but the people here are really cool and the city is fantastic. The group of guys in San Diego was really good, but coming to Tacoma... it’s an entirely different culture. It’s special and unique. The guys go out of the way to make sure that you are enjoying your time here. It’s a different atmosphere, a different vibe. (Head coach Darren Sawatzky) is very structured and disciplined. He gives you that motivation; you want to play not only for yourself but for him, your teammates, and the organization. Everyone gets that same respect off the field. The Stars have been nothing short of first class since I got here.”
There is a growing ambition to win as a club. While it sill maintains its core of local standouts, with many players being past members of the Sounders U23s or working their way up from the Western Indoor Soccer League, there has been a rise of signings from high-profile players from out of the area and notable veterans who can not only contribute, but help teach the young talent (such as James Riley and Milan Ivanovich).
“Phillip (Lund), with a bit of guidance, has the potential to be one of the top players in the league. James (Riley), besides being so humble and hard working, might just be the first ever 36 year old rookie of the year. Milan (Ivanovich) is a true professional. Mike Ramos could be the biggest breakout name you’ll hear this year - he’s got this flair that not many people have and brings something completely different to the game. There are a lot of guys who haven’t gotten the recognition yet because they’re younger, but are the future of this team. The camaraderie between the guys is amazing, it is beyond anything I have experienced. All the guys feel we are on the same level and we are here to win.”
In addition, Matt holds his own personal ambition walking into the season. “My ultimate goal is to try and achieve MVP of the league. I put myself on that pedestal and always want reach for the highest star — but I can still knock off other goals along the way. I want another 15/15 (15 goals, 15 assists) season at least; assists are a part of my game which have come out recently and I want to keep it going. (Coach Sawatzky) has been really focusing on my defense to help fit the system. I used to be known only for scoring goals but I feel I can be a top all-around player and help the team win.”
With the season looming, Matt hopes that ShoWare Center continues to be a place for the Pacific Northwest’s passionate fans to watch soccer.
“It’s fun, exciting, and fast-paced. There are a lot of goals and lots of action. It has hard tackles; it is an American sport and will appeal to American fans. You’ll never see a one-zero game - there will always be goals. You’re going to get an intimate experience. You’ll get fan interaction. Everything is so close to the field. For affordable, fun entertainment, indoor soccer is the way to go.
The Tacoma Stars season begins on Saturday, December 1st, hosting the Turlock Express at 7:05pm in Kent at the Accesso ShoWare Center. Tickets can be purchased here.