Replacing a legendary player isn’t easy.
Unless that legendary player sets you up for success and helps you in many different ways.
That’s what Naseem Clark learned this year.
Clark is a sophomore goalkeeper on the Archbishop Ryan High School soccer team. He came into the season without a lot of varsity experience because during his freshman campaign, he played in front of all-world goalie Joey Phillips.
While Phillips was playing, Clark was paying close attention. And when Phillips wasn’t playing, he was often spending time with his younger backup, preparing him for this year.
And Clark was all ears.
“I learned a lot mentally and physically from him,” said Clark, who lives in Port Richmond. “The biggest thing was anytime you let up a goal or don’t have your best game, keep your head up and keep working. We worked out a lot.
“Club helped me a lot, but most of the stuff that helped me was me going over stuff with Joey during the offseason. He helped me so much, it felt really good to have someone like him who was an All-Catholic goalkeeper to learn from. And going under a PCL champ is just incredible. I really appreciate what he did for me during the season, and even more during the offseason and when he had time, he came over and helped me. I wouldn’t be here without him. He’s doing amazing, him going to Holy Family is crazy. I’ll show so much support, he’s been an amazing person. He’ll even come over after games to help. He’s helped me so much.”
While Phillips certainly went out of his way to help his protege, Clark held up his end of the bargain as well. And this year, he showed the Catholic League that he was ready to follow in Phillips’ footsteps.
Clark passed most of the credit off to the coaching staff and defense, but the Raiders allowed just five goals during Catholic League play as they advanced to the Catholic League semifinals, where they fell just short against La Salle, which went on to win the championship.
While the game was a huge disappointment for the Raiders, who were the defending Catholic League champions, it was a coming-out party for Clark, who proved to the world he’s not just a good goaltender, but he’s already one of the best.
Clark praised his teammates for what they did in front of him, but he stopped some point-blank blasts by the Explorers and kept the Raiders in the game until the final minutes in the one-goal loss.
“We had a great defense all year,” Clark said. “Frankie (Monaco) and Owen Stock, I think they’re the two best center backs in the PCL ever. Sean Dixon and Aiden Goldberg, they were a huge part of this soccer team. They were huge. Frankie and Owen are like my big brothers, they’ve been there since day one. They said they always have my back.
“The leadership was incredible. When I let (Monaco and Stock) down, they supported me. I thought maybe coming in I’d allow more goals, maybe seven. I was feeling down and nervous, but coming into the end of the season, only five goals. I’m happy for all of us.”
And the good news is they’re still rolling.
The Raiders knocked off Furness 9-0 in the District 12 Class 3A championship game. Ryan advanced to the game by finishing the regular season with a better regular season record than Archbishop Wood.
They went on to play Springfield in the first round of the PIAA 3A state playoffs and suffered a 4-0.
While a PCL repeat isn’t a possibility, a state championship remains a distinct one. And Clark believes his team has what it takes to get it done.
“It was nice to win a district championship,” Clark said. “Winning districts, it felt good, it’s nice to get a plaque under my name and bring one back to the school. We won for the team and school, since we didn’t win a PCL title, so it means a lot.”
Clark loves to help Ryan anyway he can. He enjoys doing it because of how much he cares for the school, team and coaches, who he said had a huge hand in making him the player he is.
“All of our coaches help us,” Clark said. “Coach (Ryan) Haney has helped me a lot, especially with confidence. When I’d allow a goal, I would get really upset, and down on myself. He told me that goalies can’t be perfect.
“He’s one of the best coaches I ever had. He believed I was ready. I wasn’t sure. But he was right. He made sure I was ready. And I had great teammates in front of me.”
While Clark is excited about finishing the season on a high note, he’s also excited about next year.
The former baseball player, who is pondering a return to that sport this year, has high hopes for his soccer career. And he believes next year could be an even bigger one for him.
“I’m going to work hard to get better,” Clark said. “I really want to bring a PCL championship back to the school. It means so much to them, and me.
“I’m working on everything. I’d like to be a leader. I see the impact the leaders had on me and I’d like to do the same. I still get down, I need to work on that, but I’m getting better. And I love this team. I’m ready for anything.”