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New York Red Bulls midfielder Caden Clark has attended a game at Allianz Field, but he won't face his hometown team, Minnesota United, until Sunday night's game in New Jersey.

Clark knows many Loons players and trained with some during a brief trial when he was 16. Now 19, he nurtures a relationship with coach Adrian Heath — even after Minnesota United traded away Clark's MLS territorial rights in October 2020.

"This will be my first time, it's going to be special," he said. "It'll be fun to be out there playing against them."

Clark came home to Wayzata and Minnesota in February to see his dogs and attend the U.S. men's national team's World Cup qualifier victory over Honduras in single-digit temperatures.

"I was absolutely freezing," Clark said Friday in a telephone interview.

In December, U.S. Soccer invited him to his first senior national-team camp. He called it a "really unique opportunity" to join MLS stars and other Americans who now play in Europe, just as Clark aspires with a Red Bulls organization that has teams in Germany's Bundesliga and Austria.

Now starting his second full MLS season, Clark proved himself something of a sensation in his league debut. It came hours after the Red Bulls paid Minnesota United $75,000 for his rights near the 2020 season's end. At 17, he became the league's youngest player to score a goal in each of his first two games.

His 2021 season — when he was transferred to that German RB Leipzig team but never played there — was sidetracked by an appendectomy. Loaned back in February to New York for the season, he has been a second-half substitute in this season's first two games, Red Bulls victories over San Jose and Toronto.

"I don't think anybody doubted he was going to be a player," Heath said. "It was just the circumstances."

If Loons supporters wonder why Clark is not playing in Minnesota, Heath attributed the trade to his team's lack of a second team needed to develop such a prospect at the time. The club entered MLS in 2017, opened Allianz Field in 2019 and hadn't yet invested sufficiently in its academy or a second team.

Heath called the timing "maybe a year or two early for us. We tried everything we could to convince him to stay here, but it was difficult at the time."

Heath's club opens MLS Next Pro league with a second team later this month. Clark and his dad, Chris, met with Heath and family friend and club owner Bill McGuire.

Clark eventually went to a Red Bulls organization that had a USL Championship team and a direct path to its European teams. The Loons took money for his rights.

"I definitely wanted to be in Minnesota, 100 percent," Clark said. "I think we were getting close to talking about a contract and what would make sense for game time. If they had the right steppingstones in my age group, then it would have been different. But it just didn't make sense to go to a first team with no plan to develop. That's crucial. MLS is a steppingstone for a lot of youngsters to get to Europe. If that's your goal, it's about how can I get there as soon as possible, at the right time? It should be for every young American to get over there.

"It would have been really cool for me to play in front of my friends and family. That would have been something special. But it didn't work out like that. I couldn't have asked for a better situation now."

Heath calls Clark "perfect for the way they play" and added, "He's young. He's got good energy and he's a really good finisher. If he plays on the weekend, we're certainly going to have to watch him. … He's a great kid."

Clark and Heath still exchange messages and talk often. When Clark returns home, which is often, they grab a coffee or lunch. Heath and Clark's family live nearby.

"He's known me since I was 15 years old," Clark said. "It's good to have allies like that. He's an experienced coach. He has been through a lot of different situations and coached at a lot of high levels. It's important to have people in your life who you can talk to about soccer and get advice from.

"It's good to have someone like that in your corner."