Graduate Watch – Colin Clarke Signs For USL2 Toledo Villa FC

The global pandemic struck as fromer RIASA student-athlete Colin Clarke was set to graduate and potentially pursue footballing options within the UK and Europe.  

After a devastating end to Colin’s four year commitment to his academic and soccer development, it’s great to hear that he has now signed for Toledo Villa FC who are currently in United Soccer League 2. 

After graduating in Spring 2020, Academy Director Mark Ellis saw great potential in Colin’s playing ability after spending 4 years on our unique soccer programme developing his game technically and tactically.

Bradford City & Halifax Town

Closer to Fall 2020, Mark was able to arrange a once in a lifetime extended trial with Bradford City FC. Due to Colin being located in America, this meant he had to quarantine in a Leeds hotel room for a period of over 20+ days. 

The first week of Colin’s trial at Bradford City was hindered by a loss of match fitness due to the inconsistent training periods before he arrived in the UK, undoubtedly due to the global pandemic.  

The second week was much better for Colin as he started to find his feet and showcase his ability, which we remember seeing on a regular basis during his time playing for RIASA. 

Unfortunately Colin was not offered any contract or a trial extension after his two weeks training with Bradford City’s first team. The manager at the time Stuart McCall praised Colin for his efforts and explained that he was only looking to add players who were a higher calibre to the playing squad already. 

Despite not coming away with a contract, Colin could take that experience away with him and learn from this in the future. It’s also worth noting the expectations of professional footballers and how high that level of competition really is. If you’re trying to be seen and given the opportunity at any pro football set up, you really need to make sure you’re way above your best. 

Following the trail at Bradford City, Colin was still eager to try and burst into the UK football scene. Mark was able to negotiate another solid trial offer from neighbouring Halifax Town FC, who currently compete in the National League, the fifth tier of English football. You will know Halifax Town for signing Leicester City and England Striker Jamie Vardy

Unfortunately again due to lockdown restrictions in the UK and another 7 days in a hotel room, the initial week trial only ended up actually being 2-3 days. It was difficult for Colin to once again make a stamp in a new club with limited time and resources.

Watch Colin’s interview after his trail at Bradford City.

Back to the US

After these experiences Colin then flew back home to the US in mid November as the UK entered another strict lockdown. 

Colin attended a combine in Atlanta upon arriving home (also known as pro soccer tryouts). It was organised by a sports agency but the experience was a little underwhelming due to the lack of teams that were present at the event. 

Having been through all these experiences, Colin was still driven and focused on succeeding within the soccer industry. He took some time to work on his professional appearances on Linkedin – which is the modern day networking CV. 

After connecting with teams, coaches and sharing his soccer highlights, he started to receive traction. Colin did receive a lucrative offer form a club based in Kosovo, but after considering the full package chose not to accept the contract. 

Throughout the winter month in the US, Colin remained focused on the goal. He trained with intensity and made sure that he was keeping match fit.

A new opportunity in USL2

In early March 2021 Colin started discussions with Toledo Villa FC in USL2. They had looked over his soccer highlights and wanted to give him a chance. 

To get his match fitness back and ready for the season the coaches invited him to train with NAIA Lourdes University team and in April he signed for Villa and made his debut on May 15th, coming on as a second half substitute for the final 30 mins against 2019 National Champions Flint City FC. 

Although they lost the game 3-1, Colin made an impact immediately and assisted on the consolation goal. The following Wednesday he started in the home game against Dayton Dutch Lions, scoring the second goal with a volley from 18 yards to make it 2-0 as the team went on to win 5-2 in front of a home crowd.

On Sunday 23rd May Colin led the side out again away to Fort Wayne FC in front of a crowd of 3,500 where the team won a hard fought battle 2-1. Colin also took part in a ceremonial kick off with former US National Team and four time World Cup Player for USA DaMarcus Beasley.

The team trains full time, 4-5 days a week, depending on game schedule and they have created a very professional environment, related to fitness and nutrition. They play their home games at the University of Toledo Soccer Complex and thanks to sponsors have all transportation to away games arranged in air conditioned coaches (busses) so that the players can focus on the game. 

Colin plans to use his time in USL2 firstly to help Toledo Villa establish themselves and push for promotion and prepare for a return to Europe after restrictions are lifted, or if there are offers, stay in the USA, to pursue a professional contract.

It’s great to hear the success of our graduates and through the development of Colin’s soccer at RIASA, he was in a strong position to try and give everything he had when the opportunity came his way.

We look forward to seeing Colin’s journey and where this new exciting opportunity will take him.