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  • Tuesday, May 16, 2000

    Clarke eyes Europe

    By NEIL DAVIDSON -- Canadian Press
     Tired of banging his head against a wall of red tape and import quotas overseas, Canadian soccer player Jeff Clarke has settled in Virginia Beach, Va., with the Hampton Roads Mariners of the A-League.
     
     It's not exactly where he'd like to be, but it's a team. And a pretty well-run one at that, located in a nice setting with a handy support group of Canadian colleagues in Carl Fletcher, Grant Needham and Randy Samuel.
     
     Clarke's most recent home was the Canadian Olympic team, which he captained in an unsuccessful bid to qualify for the Sydney Games. Prior to that he had a tryout with Salzburg in Austria.
     
     He chose Hampton Roads over several other A-League team, including his home-town Vancouver 86ers.
     
     The Mariners offered the best deal, but they also provided a new environment. "Just getting away," he said by way of explanation.
     
     Clarke, 21, has played in Ireland, scoring the goal that won St. Patrick's Athletic the Irish title. But he hasn't managed to catch on overseas, despite earning 13 caps for the Canadian senior side.
     
     Work permit woes have cost Clarke chances with West Ham and Darlington County in England. A tryout with Inverness Caledonian Thistle failed to produce anything.
     
     Clarke had worried that playing in the A-League might result in Canadian coach Holger Osieck dropping him from the national team pool.
     
     Osieck, who rarely minces words, doesn't think much of Major League Soccer, the top league in the U.S., let alone the second-tier A-League.
     
     "It's better than just hanging around and doing nothing," the coach said of Clarke joining the Mariners.
     
     But Osieck has stuck with the defender-midfielder, including him in his 18-man roster for four upcoming games.
     
     Confusion over the direction of his career has cost Clarke. The 21-year-old called himself a "confused young man" at the recent Olympic qualifying tournament.
     
     While he now has a team for play for, Clarke isn't totally happy.
     
     "I am and I am not," he said."When you set your sights so high, and you have to settle for less. No disrespect to this club, but I wish I was over there (in Europe)."
     
     Clarke is signed until Nov. 1 with Hampton Roads but has an escape clause in case of another offer. Two agents are looking for a club overseas for him.



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