Summer Clarke - Colombia
(Getty Images)

Whitecaps FC Girls Elite star finds inspiration from familiar heroes

Vancouver Whitecaps FC striker Caleb Clarke had some simple advice for his little sister Summer before she set off for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Azerbaijan 2012 with the Canadian team: “Play the way you know how, like you always do”.

Judging by her performance in Canada’s 1-0 defeat of Colombia on Tuesday, Clarke has followed big brother’s advice to the letter.

Raised in a family of sports lovers, Summer struck the game’s only goal and caused panic in Las Cafeteras' defence with her frequent incursions in the box. Following her virtuoso performance, the happy-go-lucky Canuck No4 spoke to about the match, her hopes for the tournament and her footballing idols.

“Nichelle (Prince) hit the perfect cross and all I had to do was push the ball over the line,” said the modest Canadian match winner, reflecting on her all-important strike against the Colombians. “That goal meant an awful lot because we really needed the three points. It gave the team a boost and it’s going to give us more confidence.”

Tuesday’s win moved the Canadians on to four points and within touching distance of a place in the last eight. To make sure of that slot, they need to beat the already eliminated Azerbaijan in their final game.

“It’s never easy when you have to play the host nation because you know they’re going to have lots of fans cheering them on,” she said. “Even so, I think we just need to believe in ourselves and in our abilities. We need to keep possession and score.”

With her side well placed to advanced, the young forward is entertaining thoughts of a run to the semi-finals at least. “Obviously it would be great to win the tournament, but if we can’t do that, then finishing in the top three would be pretty amazing,” she explained with a broad smile across her face.

Idols to look up to
Like her brother, Summer always wanted to be a professional footballer, and also draws inspiration from the great Christine Sinclair, the undisputed star of Canadian women’s football: “I think she’s a role model for hundreds of girls. If I could choose one of her skills, I’d like to be as good as her in the air. I remember the two goals she scored against the USA at the Olympics.”

Though a proven goalscorer, having struck six in total in the CONCACAF qualifying competition, Clarke rejects the idea that she is one of the team’s leaders.

As she went on to explain, she derives enjoyment just from playing the game, and from watching it too, especially if Barcelona are in action: “I think everyone enjoys watching them. It’s amazing how they move the ball around, and Messi is the best in the world, no question.”

She added, with a giggle: “I’m not a big fan of Cristiano Ronaldo. I prefer Messi.”

Her admiration for the Argentinian ace pales in comparison with her love for her favourite player, aside from her brother of course. “It has to be Robin Van Persie,” said the self-confessed Arsenal fan. “He’s so good. I didn’t like it when he moved, and there’s no way I can support Manchester United, but I’m still very happy for him when he scores. He’s doing very well.”

It remains to be seen whether Clarke can emulate Sinclair or her Dutch hero when the Canadians take on Azerbaijan on Saturday, but however she performs, the smiling young goal-getter will be putting the team first: “I’d happily go without scoring if it meant us winning the tournament.”