Brentwood Middle School eighth-grader Avery Clark is a standout forward for the Tennessee Soccer Club’s 2004 Girls team. / SUBMITTED
BY RUSSELL VANNOZZI
Avery Clark isn’t like most 14-year-old students.
While her Brentwood Middle School friends are enjoying free time, Clark is honing her skills on the soccer field.
“I’ve always loved playing,” Clark said. “I wish I had time to play other sports, but I’m really focusing on soccer. This is my thing.”
She is working toward a spot on the U.S. women’s national team, which is much less of a pipe dream than it once was.
Clark goes to bed early, wakes up early and tries to maintain a healthy diet. She operates on a tight schedule that includes working with a personal trainer in her backyard, practicing with the Tennessee Soccer Club boys’ team and frequently missing school to travel to soccer tournaments and camps.
“Everyone at school kind of respects me for my [busy schedule],” Clark said. “Even when I go to sleepovers, no one wakes me up. That’s a rule because I probably have soccer in the morning.”
Standing at 5-foot-10, Clark imposes an intimating presence on the field. And her height certainly comes in handy on corner kicks.
“I’ve always been three inches above everyone,” she said. “I’m still growing, my knees are always hurting because of it.”
Clark was born in Palo Alto, California, before her father’s music business career brought the family to Nashville in 2013.
Since then, Avery has blossomed into a soccer star. She’s currently a member of the Tennessee Soccer Club 2004 girl’s team, which competes in the Ohio Valley Conference of the Elite Clubs National League.
U.S. camp was “the real deal”
The forward recently caught her big break when she one of just 36 players named to U.S. Under-14 Girls’ National Team. Clark then participated in the team’s week-long training camp July 15-22 in Fort Collins, Colorado.
“It was like the real deal,” she said. “I thought it was going to be another summer camp type of thing with pizza and stuff. But we had squash and all healthy food for dinner. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten that healthy for that long in my life.”
Despite being a newcomer to the team, Clark fit right in. Her outgoing personality helped her make fast friends with her new teammates and she won the “Three-Yard Award,” which is given to the player with the most positive effect on everything within three yards of their reach – both on and off the field.
“[The coaches] told me that I was the kind of player that they wanted for the team,” Clark said. “I was like ‘oh, okay, that sounds good.’”
The time sacrifices are well worth the reward for Clark. She dreams of playing big-time college soccer, and, eventually, donning the U.S. national team uniform for a major tournament.
Playing with the boys
Per the U.S. coaches’ request, Clark is now training with the Tennessee Soccer Club’s boys team until her club season begins in November. Doing so allows her to work against a faster pace of play.
“It’s very competitive, because [the boys] don’t want to lose to me, but they always do,” Clark said. “It was awkward at first, very awkward. They were scared to talk to me. But we’re cool now.”
U.S. Soccer will continue to scout Clark at various games and tournaments in the coming months. College scouts will be there as well, but Clark said it’s easy to tell the difference between the two.
“They’re usually in disguise; it’s kind of cool,” Clark said of the U.S. scouts. “They have this certain vibe, so I know when they’re there. A bunch of college coaches are there wearing team gear, and the U.S. coaches are in all black.”
While Clark is far from making a college choice (she won’t graduate high school until 2023), she quickly noted her interest in returning to Palo Alto to play for Stanford.
“Stanford is my dream, although I’m not deciding any time soon,” Clark said. “We lived in a townhouse in San Francisco that was probably about 30 minutes from Stanford, so I’ve always had a soft spot for them.”
The future awaits
Clark will attend Brentwood High School next school year, although she will not play for its soccer team. Instead, she will focus her time on club soccer and attempt to land on a spot on a U.S. tournament roster. That means plenty of travel and occasionally playing hooky.
“It feels like we’ve been to just about every state,” Clark said. “I miss a lot of Fridays. Usually the teachers are cool with it, and they give me work in advance.”
Keep Clark’s name written down somewhere. There’s a chance you might see it again sometime soon. And that could be on TV, in a U.S. uniform.
“My shot needs work, and so do my touches, but I’m getting there,” she said. “I want to make a U.S. roster for a tournament in the next two years.”