Caden Clark’s day began on a high note with the New York Red Bulls and the teenage midfielder made sure to follow that up on a bigger high in his first MLS appearance.
Hours after signing a first team contract with the Red Bulls, Clark made his MLS debut for the club and scored the winning goal in a 1-0 road victory over Atlanta United. Not only did Clark celebrate his first game in winning fashion, but his goal showed just what the midfielder has brought in the USL this season for Red Bulls II.
“We know what a special talent he is and we’ve seen it throughout the USL,” RBNY interim head coach Bradley Carnell said. “And we know he has certain qualities and it makes it interesting with our style of play. So, first and foremost, you know he’s a Red Bull player — a Red Bull philosophy player — he plays our way, runs our way and he’s hungry in our way.”
“The first half, it took him 5-10 minutes to get into the groove of what now the MLS is all about. But then he found the groove and he started picking up spots, started making passes and started making plays. So his confidence grew.”
Clark got the nod alongside Samuel Tetteh and Daniel Royer in New York’s 4-2-3-1 formation at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and made the most of his 66-minute performance. The 17-year-old gave the Red Bulls a lead in the 47th minute with a perfectly hit volley into the bottom corner.
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Clark struggled possession-wise for the Red Bulls, but overall the team will be happy with the three points. After losing back-to-back matches against Orlando City and Inter Miami respectively, the New Jersey based club jumped to sixth place with the road win and remains alive for an even-higher finish in the Eastern Conference table.
“I didn’t believe it and I still don’t believe it,” Clark said post match. “It’s just really exciting for me. It hasn’t hit me yet, but I’m sure it will soon. But, you know, it’s just, it’s great for this team to get this win, and that is the most important part.”
A former player with the Minnesota Thunder as well as the Barca Academy, Clark’s MLS rights were acquired earlier in the day in a trade with Minnesota United. Clark has been a key player for Red Bulls II this season, scoring three goals and adding five assists in 12 league matches before New York made it clear they wanted to lock him up long-term.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Clark became the fifth-youngest player to score in an MLS match, finishing only behind Jesus Ferreira, Diego Fagundez, Jack McBean, and Fuad Ibrahim on that list. In what was a mind-boggling day for the midfielder, he credited his teammates for believing in him in his debut.
“I didn’t believe it and I still don’t believe it,” Clark said about his goal. “It hasn’t hit me yet. The ball came right to me and I was fortunate enough to hit it in the right spot. The whole team and the whole coaching staff gave me confidence.”
Clark now jumps into a Red Bulls midfield mixed with both youth and experience and will look to remain in the plans for the rest of the season and onward. Whether or not new head coach Gerhard Struber will keep in his starting lineup going forward is another question, but the team will make sure he is ready for when called upon.
“[We want to] make sure that his feet stay on the ground … he’s a very grounded guy, he’s a humble guy,” Carnell said. “And you could see in his performance tonight, he’s gutsy — he wants more and he wants to do more for the team and he runs miles and miles and miles and doesn’t stop. So he’s like a little dynamo in the midfield there.”
“So, very happy about his performance and now it’s our job to make sure that we’re pulling the strings in the right way just to guide him along down the line.”