It’s story time, ladies and gents!
Rewind way, way back to the end of summer, August, 2002. I’m home from college, looking for something to do on a beautiful August Wednesday night in the DMV. My younger brother asked me earlier in the day if I wanted to head to College Park, MD that night to check out a scrimmage between DC United and University of Maryland men’s soccer team. So I call a few friends (this was way before the days of text messaging), pick them up after work, and we all head to Ludwig Field.
This is far from our first Terps or DC United soccer match. My brother, Mark Murphy, and I both grew up as huge soccer fanatics in PG County, and our dad took us to a ton of DC United games in the early days of the club. We both attended and played soccer at DeMatha Catholic High School, which was only a few minutes up Route 1 from University of Maryland, so we attended our fair share of matches at Ludwig Field.
But this evening was different.
DC United, enjoying early success after winning the MLS Cup in 1996, 1997, and 1999, was going through a tough time in 2000 and 2001, but they still had plenty of quality on the roster. They had just signed a new center back from New Zealand who everyone was buzzing about, and the overall quality of players on the pitch this evening made it a match, despite being a friendly/preseason scrimmage, that I’ll never forget.
Me: “I remember being at Ludwig Field on a Wednesday night for a friendly, DC United vs MD Terps. Maybe your sophomore year?
Anyway, with as much quality that was on the field that night- Jaime Moreno, Marco Etcheverry, Roy Lassiter, Santino Quaranta, Richie Williams, Eddie Pope I believe was there, Ben Olsen, the list goes on…. I remember coming away with 2 things from that game:
1) Ryan Nelsen is really freaking good! and
2) That big tall center back from Maryland is a beast!
I told my buddies who I was at the game with…and obviously this is no offense… but you looked like a big ol T-rex out there tackling and heading away everything that came your way!”
Clarence Goodson: (laughs) “That’s funny.
I agree, Ryan Nelson was really good. Excellent pro too.
Funny enough, that was my first college game at center back. I was recruited as a forward/midfielder, but we were in desperate need of a center back for that game and I just wanted to play anywhere I could get on the field. Full credit to Brian Pensky- an assistant at UMD at that time (currently head soccer coach at University of Tennessee)- to bring the idea to Sasho Cirovski, and for Sasho to agree to it. That decision helped me become a professional.”
Time at University of Maryland
A Transition for the Best
Goodson, listed on the University of Maryland website as 6’4 his sophomore year, played as an attacking player throughout his youth career with Braddock Road and at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, VA. But his rather late transition to center back during his sophomore year at Maryland would see the Northern Virginia native launch a successful college and professional career, going on to earn 46 caps for the United States Men’s National team. Goodson would stand out for professional clubs, both domestically in MLS for Dallas Burn/FC Dallas, and overseas, playing for IK Start in Norway and Brøndby IF in Demark, respectively. He has since returned to MLS with his current club San Jose Earthquakes.
Only a month after being converted to center back (imagine transitioning from striker to center back and, for your first match, as only a sophomore in college, you have line up against Jaime Moreno and that DC United squad), he was named to Soccer America’s team of the week in September, 2002. Goodson would continue to develop as a defender, helping the 2002 Maryland Men’s soccer team, under head coach Sasho Cirovski, to go on to win the 2002 ACC Soccer Championship in a 3-0 win over Virginia.
It would be Cirovski’s second of six ACC titles, also leading the team to the semifinals of the 2002 NCCA Men’s Soccer Tournament before losing to eventual National Champions UCLA.
Goodson, as a junior, would continue to flourish as a center back at Maryland in 2003-2004 before deciding to forego his senior season to turn pro and enter the MLS Draft. He would go on to be selected number 7 overall in the 2004 MLS Draft, one spot ahead of fellow USMNT player Clint Dempsey.
Me: “What do you remember from your time at Maryland? Memorable goals, teammates who your usually hung out with or still speak to….”
Clarence: “My time at Maryland as a soccer player overall was fun. However, it was not without some difficulties. It took time to get used to the expectations of a higher level of soccer, a different coaching staff and different players. Sasho is a great coach and I am very appreciative for all he has done for me. We have a good relationship to this day but he’s intense and demands excellence. It took me a bit to get used to that. Once I understood the expectations, I flourished.
I had so many wonderful teammates at UMD. We were a very close team, and everyone truly enjoyed being with each other away from the field. My two best friends to this day, Abe Thompson (who is still involved in the game and currently serves as a head coach of Braddock Road u16 girl’s team), and Jason Arnold (who is currently the General Manager at the Wilmington Hammerheads), both of whom I played with on Braddock Road, joined me at UMD. We speak almost daily. We won the ACC tournament, regular season championship and went to two final fours while I was there. However, what I remember most is the camaraderie we had. Each one of us didn’t want to let the other down. We cared about each other too much not to give everything we had. It was a special time.”
Me: “When you say that it took you some time to get used to the expectations as a student athlete…for the younger guys who are going into college, or currently playing soccer at that level, what advice can you share with them?”
Clarence: “As student athletes we have two duties- our studies, and then our sport. I think it is important for younger players to understand it can be a difficult balancing act, but that universities have many teachers willing to help, you just need to ask for the help.“
Early DMV Memories
Braddock Road Youth Club, 1999 National Champions
Before talking about Clarence’s successful professional career which saw him on the 2010 World Cup roster, it’s important to take a look at where it all started.
Goodson grew up in the DMV, hailing from Alexandria, Virginia. He attended Annandale High School for his freshman and sophomore years, before transferring to WT Woodson where he and Abe Thompson would lead the Cavaliers to a Virginia State title in 2000.
For his club ball, Clarence played for Braddock Road Youth Club, helping to lead the Warhawks to a National championship in 1999.
Me: “So you grew up in Northern Virginia, and you played your youth ball for Braddock Road. What can you tell me about any memories you have growing up as a player in the Northern VA area?”
Clarence: “Youth soccer has always been highly competitive in the DMV area. I felt blessed to be able to compete against so many wonderful players without having to travel very far. The DMV area has produced many successful pros over the year and numerous from my age group. National team players at the youth or senior team include myself, Kyle Beckerman, Oguchi Onyewu, Abe Thomson, David Stokes, Kelvin Jones and Shawn Kuykendall just to name a few. I was fortunate to play with all of them at one time or another. Those experiences only make you a better player.
For indoor we would play in Manassas. Not sure if those fields are still heavily used the way they were in my youth, but they were top notch facilities in the 90’s and 2000’s.”
Me: “You’ve obviously played for a number of coaches throughout your career. A lot of times, players say that coaches who worked with them in the early years are the ones who influenced them the most. Do you remember any of your old youth, high school, or any other coaches who you’d like to recognize?”
Clarence: “The two most influential coaches from my youth were Joe Dougherty (who currently coaches for Arlington Soccer) & (longtime VA youth soccer coach) Gene Mishalow. Both coached me at different times for the Braddock Road Warhawks, and both helped me grow at different periods in my development. I am very grateful for both of them. I’m 34, and still keep in touch with both to this day. I honestly feel indebted to those men for the time and the grace they gave me as a youth. Top men.”
Life as a Professional
A “Tall” Order
Clarence was drafted seventh overall in the 2004 MLS Draft, but in his rookie season he only registered 247 minutes over 5 regular season MLS games. While he did see extended time in Cup matches, the Burn failed to make the MLS playoffs for the second straight year in manager Colin Clarke‘s first full season.
The following season, in 2005, club owner Lamar Hunt announced that the club would be re-branded as “FC Dallas”, a decision which was coordinated with the opening of their new soccer-specific stadium in Frisco, TX.
That same season, FC Dallas signed Carlos Ruiz as part of a trade that sent Landon Donovan to the LA Galaxy. The team made it to the Western Conference Semifinals, losing to the Colorado Rapids 3-2 after a penalty shootout, a game in which Goodson recorded an assist.
FC Dallas also made it to the final of the US Open Cup, losing to the Los Angeles Galaxy 1-0 in what was basically a home game for the Galaxy in Carson, California.
It would appear as if the new FC Dallas name, jerseys, logo, and stadium all serve as a breath of fresh air for the Dallas MLS club, but the 2005 season was also a breakthrough season for Goodson. He led the team in minutes (2,488), games played (29), and games started (28) despite being used primarily as a substitute the prior season.
Settling in during his rookie season obviously played a role in his standout sophomore campaign.
Me: “So then you’re drafted 7th overall in 2004 by the Dallas Burn. You had some familiar faces with you there…Abe Thompson was a former Terp, Michael DelloRusso, and I’m sure you knew Alex Yi from VA.
Then you have some quality established players like Denilson, Shaka Hislop, Kenny Cooper was hot around that time.
How did you feel about making the jump from college to the pros, what was different in terms of how you prepared yourself as a professional that maybe rubbed off on you from some of those veteran guys?”
Clarence: “Each level I have stepped up to has created new challenges. The game is faster, the margin for error is much smaller, and of course the players are bigger, stronger and faster. We had great players in Dallas.
From day one, Ronnie O’brien took me under his wing. We happened to live in the same apartment complex and I am forever indebted to him for his friendship and mentorship at that time. It makes a huge difference for a young player to have an older professional care about your development. I was also able to watch Ronnie and other guys train like Bobby Rhine, Steve Jolley, Greg Vanney, Jason Kreis, and Richard Mulrooney to name just a few. I listened as much as I could to try to learn something new. You look at those names, and not only were they fantastic players, they’re great men. Those experiences and conversations have helped me in my professional life and my personal life.”
A few years later, in 2007, Clarence would be selected second overall by the San Jose Earthquakes in the 2007 MLS Expansion Draft, but the Northern Virginia DMV native had bigger plans.
Looking for a fresh “Start”
Instead of returning to MLS, Goodson decided to take his talents to Scandanavia, signing for IK Start in Norway in what could be looked at as a bit of a “trailblazer” move (see: “Who is Clarence Goodson and why MLS should care“). Between 2008 and 2010, Goodson would make 69 appearances for the club, scoring 10 goals and starting to pop up on Bob Bradley’s USMNT radar.
Me: “You get a move to Europe, to Scandinavia of all places. IK Start in Norway for 3 years, followed by a move to Danish club Brondby. What do you remember going from MLS, where you were a standout at FC Dallas by the time you left, to Europe?”
Clarence: “At the time, San Jose Earthquakes had just come back to San Jose as an expansion team after previous moving to Houston. They became the Houston Dynamo, and now MLS was having an expansion draft to help fill out the new Earthquakes roster. I was out of contract, and FC Dallas knew of my desire to move abroad. So FC Dallas decided to leave me unprotected (teams could protect 11 of 23 players), and thus able to be picked by San Jose. I was of course picked. I thought it was a really stupid decision by Dallas, but it is what it is. After I was drafted, I felt the contract offer from MLS was poor, and I left to play in Norway. It was one of the best decisions of my career. I also believe coming back to MLS when I did in 2013 was one of the best decisions I have made. Each player is different and each players path is different but I’m happy the route mine has gone.”
Representing his country
Stars and Stripes
Goodson made his first US Men’s National Team appearance against Sweden in a friendly on January 19, 2008. He would go on to earn a total of 46 full caps for the US Men’s National Team, and was selected as a member of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
The Americans were in the same group as England, Algeria, and Slovenia.
Come on, you remember.
They were favored to come out of their group along with England, but Algeria made it very difficult in a landmark game versus Bob Bradley’s Yanks.
Me: “Bob Bradley calls you into National Team camp in 2008. You’re involved in World Cup qualifying in 2008-2009, and you play in the 2009 Gold Cup. Later on, in 2010, you get to live the dream. You’re going to the World Cup!
Is being involved in a World Cup squad the most memorable experience of your soccer career?“
Clarence: “Representing my country has been the ultimate achievement. Its an amazing feeling that is the culmination of countless hours of training and lifestyle choices off the field. Especially in a country that is so large, and with such a massive player pool. To be considered one of the best players we have and have a chance to represent our national team is amazing. It is something I wanted to be able to do just once. I was blessed enough to do it close to 50 times.
Then of course the World Cup is another level all together. That is the really something special. At one moment in time, I was one of the 23 best players in America. The entire process of pre-World Cup training, and a World Cup tournament is extremely draining. Mentally and physically, you cannot afford to take any breaks. If you do, you could lose your spot, or let your team down.
Training sessions were extremely intense, in all the right ways. We encouraged each other, and gave everything we had to make it a successful World Cup. The group stage went very well, and we finished in first place. It wasn’t without stress though. As many may remember, we were tied late vs Algeria and needed to win to advance or we would be out of the WC.”
Me: “Of course I’m going to ask you about that! Landon Donovan’s late goal against Algeria, which sealed the win and sent shock waves throughout the world, especially back home in the States. What do you remember about that amazing moment in US Soccer history?”
Clarence: “Tim Howard caught the ball, threw a quick outlet to midfield and we went end to end with Landon Donovan scoring the winner in extra time. Before I knew it, I was at the corner flag hugging and kissing Landon! It was a massive dog pile I’ll never forget. Amazing time with amazing teammates!”
2014 World Cup
Landon Donovan wasn’t the only name that was omitted from Jurgen Klinnsman’s 2014 World Cup roster. Despite being used in World Cup qualifying and playing in almost every United States win during the qualifying campaign, head coach Jurgen Klinnsman decided to go a different route and select younger, less experienced center backs for his World Cup roster.
Clarence, on missing out on being selected for the 2014 World Cup:
Soccer is the beautiful game, but it isn’t always a fair game. Missing out on the 2014 WC was very disappointing, but things don’t always go the way you envision them. I think its very important for players not to put too much stock in how good or bad one coach thinks you are.
Coaches are very important, but they are not always right. Jurgen was wrong to leave me off of the team, but it was his decision to make. Just because I didn’t make the team didn’t mean I was suddenly a bad soccer player. For me, it was important to get back out and play again, and not allow someone else’s thoughts of me to define me. I’m proud to say I believe 2015 was the highest level I’ve played at in my career. I honestly believe I was the best defender in MLS in 2015.
San Jose Earthquakes
“Heading” off into the sunset
Goodson returned to MLS in 2013, after 5 successful years abroad, to play for the San Jose Earthquakes. He’s made 49 appearances for the San Jose side, and recently, has embraced a veteran role in which he’s able to provide guidance and tutelage for some of the younger players on the team.
Me: “You mentioned earlier that some of the veteran guys in Dallas were able to help you settle in when you first arrived. Do you see yourself in a similar role now in San Jose at all, maybe showing the younger guys a few things? If so, what do you try to teach/show them what they need to do to be a quality professional player?”
Clarence: “Absolutely. I try to teach others like I have been taught. Just like the older pros I played with at a young age, I’ve always given 100% in training. I have absolutely no time for players who train at 50% effort. That comes down to the individual’s mentality and character, though.
I’ve never been able to give less than 100%. I don’t have it in me. I believe that my 100% effort rubs off on others, and in every club it’s up to the older pros and coaches to set that standard. But the on field stuff is only part of it. A massive part of being a professional soccer player is the choices you make off of the field. Proper nutrition, weight training and sleeping habits are just as big. If a player doesn’t understand that, then they can never truly reach their full potential. Those are just some of the things I try to share with the next generation.”
Life as a Professional
How Clarence has played professional soccer for 13+ years
Me: “You’re now 34, still a professional athlete. To be able to do this, you obviously have to look after yourself.
Give us an idea of what you’ve done to be able to have such a prolonged career (diet, training regimen, anything you can share).
Clarence: “Being a pro athlete is a 24/7 thing. Especially at 34, if I eat the wrong thing or don’t get the rest my body demands, I suffer for it.
I try to eat well-balanced meals, organic if possible, little to no sugar, defiantly no soda or fast foods. We start training at 10am everyday, and I arrive between 8 and 8:20am. I eat, and then prepare for training. I get in the hot tub to warm the muscles, do PRI exercises to help my back and hips. I stretch in the gym, and get taped up to be ready to train. Depending on the day, I might lift weights.
This routine has drastically increased over the years. But at 34, it’s what I need to be able to continue to compete at this level.”
Me: “Okay, one last question. Do you ever return to the DMV area to visit family, etc.?”
“My family and many friends still live in the DMV area. I love being in the DMV area. I have countless memories in the DMV area. I try to get back every winter to see family, and It’s always a very special time.”
Clarence Goodson, truly one of DMV’s finest.