Clarke on track to mesh with Blast

It's a whole new scene to ex-Driller, but he, team seem to be well-matched

Soccer

January 05, 2001|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

First came the unfamiliar version of soccer, soon followed by a new team in a new country with a new coach that prompted a new position.

Got all that?

Since Jeff Clarke first started playing indoor soccer in the middle of October, joining the now-defunct Edmonton Drillers, it's been one adjustment after another for the 23-year-old Vancouver native.

He's just now catching his breath, finding himself in Baltimore, where he comes to the Blast with an impressive outdoor resume, an eagerness to learn the indoor game and a quiet confidence.

"From first impressions, I'd love to be here for a big chunk of my career, as long as they want to have me, really," said Clarke, who joined the Blast last week after being selected in the re-entry draft that took place after the Edmonton franchise folded in December.

"As for what I can bring, I'll always give my all. I'm not a selfish player and I think I can fit in well with this group."

When coach/general manager Kevin Healey first considered taking Clarke, he dialed a couple of former Blast players in search of further validation. After talking with Carl Valentine, the former coach of Vancouver's A-League outdoor team, and Dale Mitchell, its current coach, Healey got the answers he was looking for.

"What they said has really held true in that he's a great kid, does have good composure with the ball and reads the soccer part of the game really well," said Healey. "It's just a lack of indoor experience right now, but he's willing to learn."

By coincidence, Clarke previously did some checking of his own about the Blast with the same people.

After playing outdoors for the Canadian Olympic team and spending two years playing in Ireland and another in Belgium, Clarke wanted to give the indoor game a try.

He considered the Blast, but felt staying in Canada and playing for Edmonton was a better immediate fit. After playing in six games with the Drillers, mostly as a defender and some at forward, the franchise ceased operations.

"I only played six games in the league and I was very worried I wouldn't get drafted. I know what I can do, but maybe some of the teams didn't," said Clarke. "When I heard Baltimore drafted me, I was both shocked and excited.

"Everything that was said was going to be here has been and then some. Managemant has been great, the players have been A-1 and everyone is helping me adjust to living and playing here."

Getting here seemed to be the toughest part. It took Clarke nearly a month to get his visa to play in the United States. Healey wasted no time putting him to work.

Less than a week after arriving, Clarke learned after last Friday's win over Milwaukee that he would be going to Cleveland for Saturday's game (a 16-7 loss), playing a regular shift and doing it at ... midfield.

"I didn't want my emotions to take my mind off what I was trying to accomplish, so I just tried to keep my cool," said Clarke.

"That was a good moment to get in as soon as I got here. I felt good on Saturday. It's just really disappointing that we came out on the wrong side."

Healey liked the way Clarke found the target man up front and then ran off the ball, wanting it back. He was impressed with his two-way play - a trait of a midfielder.

Tonight, the Blast will visit Wichita, which is at the top of the American Conference with a league-best 10-3 record. The team can ease Clarke along, but with forward Mark Thomas (concussion) again out of the lineup, the newcomer should once again see playing time.

Clarke knows there's still much to learn.

"I love the indoor game," he said. "It's just I get very frustrated because I don't understand the game as well as I should. But it's just a matter of time. Everything's just a showcase. It's so fast and so intense - you need quick feet and perfect touch on the ball. Whereas the outdoor game is more of a chess game, here it's boom! boom! - goal - and you're one up or one down."

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