A bright spot in Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s 2-0 loss to FC Dallas Wednesday night at BC Place was the professional debut of 19-year-old striker Caleb Clarke.
Clarke, who worked his way through the ‘Caps Residency program before signing as a Homegrown player in April, entered the match in the 81st minute and did not look out of place in his first Major League Soccer appearance.
“It was amazing,” Clarke told reporters Thursday after training. “I was really anxious to get in and when [Martin Rennie] called me, I was really happy - especially in front of the home fans. It was a great feeling.”
At 6-foot-1, 165 Ibs, Clarke has a frame built for MLS, and built for matches like the one between Vancouver and Dallas that saw 41 fouls and nine bookings handed out.
Although he has been a member of the Whitecaps FC program since 2009, Clarke admitted there were a few jitters when his name was called late in Wednesday’s match.
“As soon as [Rennie] called my name, then I started to get a little nervous,” said Clarke, who received a nice ovation from family, friends, and fans after stepping foot onto the pitch for the first time. “But as soon as I started playing, it felt natural.”
It looked natural, too. And that should come as no surprise.
With 24 goals in 27 matches, the Richmond, BC, native led Vancouver Whitecaps FC U-18 Residency to a second-place finish in the United States Soccer Development Academy (USSDA) this past season.
It was their first season competing in the USSDA, the top youth Academy system in the United States.
And it is almost fitting that Clarke made his MLS debut against FC Dallas, whose Academy squad defeated Clarke and the U-18 ‘Caps 3-2 in last month’s USSDA championship final.
One member of that FC Dallas Academy squad was striker Jonathan Top, who scored his first MLS goal Wednesday against the ‘Caps.
That speaks to the quality of players coming through the USSDA, Clarke said.
“And hopefully there are more to come.”