Mere hours after the New York Red Bulls acquired his rights from Minnesota United, Medina’s very own Caden Clark scored the game’s only goal in his MLS debut last Saturday at Atlanta.
Four days later, he scored again, becoming at age 17 the youngest player in league history to score a goal in each of his first two games.
In doing so, he also made Team of the Week twice before he had been in the league a full week.
Clark called his first goal in his first start “amazing” and his second at Toronto on Wednesday “awesome.”
His first week might have begged Loons supporters to ask this question: Why is Clark playing in New Jersey and not Minnesota?
Loons coach Adrian Heath said his team pursued signing Clark to a MLS contract. Clark trained “a couple times” with the Loons’ first team, Heath said. He and the club’s ownership, including managing partner Bill McGuire, met with Clark and his father as well.
“Contrary to popular opinion, we couldn’t have done an awful lot more to keep him here,” Heath said. “We tried to get Caden to sign here. We tried to get to a situation where he was going to play here.”
Clark played 37 games during two seasons with the Minnesota Thunder elite youth club before he joined Barca Academy — FC Barcelona’s U.S. youth residency academy — in Arizona for three seasons starting in 2017.
He never played for Minnesota United’s development academy, which Heath said complicated trying to sign him. Heath said his club’s lack of a second team that links an academy to the first team didn’t help, either. Not with a potential star aimed toward playing in Europe someday soon.
The New York Red Bulls are owned by Red Bull corporation, which also owns RB Leipzig in Germany’s Bundesliga and FC Red Bull Salzburg in Austria.
Clark signed in February with New York Red Bulls II — the franchise’s USL Championship second team — and trained some with its first team before he signed after last week’s trade with the Loons. New York traded $75,000 in general allocation money for Clark’s territorial MLS rights Minnesota United owned for a player from its own backyard.
“You can see the kid is a really, really good player,” Heath said. “But even the Red Bulls needed to see him play at the USL level before they could make a decision to offer him a MLS contract. We were not in that situation. We didn’t have a second team to go to.”
Heath said they suggested Clark sign with them and play with Forward Madison in USL League One.
“That was something they weren’t keen on, which I understood,” Heath said.
Instead, Minnesota United struck a trade.
“We tried to get the best deal we could,” Heath said. “When I look at what we got, I think it was a pretty good deal for somebody who never really played for us.”
With his first MLS goal last week, Clark joined a list of noted Red Bulls players who scored their first pro goals at a young age: Jozy Altidore in 2006, Eddie Gaven in 2003 and Ben Mines in 2018. Altidore and Gaven were both 16, Mines 17.
Clark himself is still in high school, which veteran teammate Tim Parker reminded him of in a tweet after he dumped water on Clark’s head Wednesday night. A second-half sub in the 59th minute, Clark scored the equalizer in the 77th minute of a 1-1 draw at Toronto.
“Big result!” Parker tweeted. “But instead of hyping @iamcadenclark for his goal, let’s encourage him to do his homework.”
Clark scored his first goal in the 47th minute Saturday on a right-footed volley from the 18-yard line that came to him off a deflected corner kick. His second goal was a powerful, rising 24-yard, left-footed strike he set up with a skilled, soft touch.
“Very, very cool I did that,” Clark modestly told reporters. “It wasn’t bad.”
Clark’s two goals scored in two games is one more than L.A. Galaxy star Chicharito has scored in nine MLS game after Mexico’s national team’s all-time leading goal scorer was signed last winter.
Red Bulls interim coach Bradley Carnell called Clark a “kid playing high on life and high on the energy” of making his MLS start such a success.
“He has certain qualities,” Carnell said in a video call with reporters. “When all of this comes together and the kid’s got a chuckle in his boots, there are wonders that can happen. It’s great he can express himself in this way.”