During The Call Up’s latest episode, the 18-year-old midfielder disclosed how Jesse Marsch wants him to step into a leadership role. Marsch is entering his first year in charge of the Bundesliga side after proving himself at Red Bull Salzburg, the Austrian-based club in their global soccer network. And Clark, as it was announced June 24, is heading to Germany when RBNY’s 2021 MLS season wraps up.
“I just had a simple conversation with Jesse the other day, just about these next six months,” Clark said. “I’m still an MLS player and I need to improve my professionalism, use these six months to set yourself up for later on. The basic things – be professional, try to be a leader at a young age. It’s not easy, of course, but just be a leader in some way that you can and be the best I can on the field. Stay healthy, just little things. Learn German, got to do that.”
Clark will be the second American midfielder who goes straight from RBNY to RB Leipzig, a club that made the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League semifinals and is looking to wrestle Bundesliga control away from Bayern Munich. The other, of course, is US men’s national team midfielder Tyler Adams, a 22-year-old who’s one of the league’s biggest homegrown success stories.
Marsch didn’t draw a straight line between Clark and Adams when asked about the former’s potential, but he’s clearly excited by the possibilities. Through 16 regular-season and playoff matches with RBNY, Clark has seven goals and two assists. He spent most of the 2020 season with New York Red Bulls II, their USL Championship team.
“Caden, you can see, has energy,” Marsch said during his introductory RB Leipzig press conference. “He has confidence and he has self-belief and it's borderline cockiness, but it's also rooted in just confidence and who he is and what he's about. That, for me, is always the best starting point.
“I can even remember meeting Tyler Adams when he was 15 years old and being like, 'Okay, we have something here.' That is exciting and then clearly he has the potential to play football the way that we think. He can run, he's aggressive, he's talented with the ball, he's creative around the goal. He's clearly shown that he has quality. I think a combination of a really aggressive personality with an aggressive way of playing fits really well with the way we think about football in Leipzig.”
Clark hasn’t featured for the United States at any international level, though that’s bound to change if he becomes an important part of RB Leipzig’s midfield during the 2021-22 season. If it weren't for an ill-timed appendectomy, Clark may have debuted at this summer's Concacaf Gold Cup. He made the preliminary roster, though not the final 23-man group.
In the meantime, Clark is tasked with continuing his growth in MLS and proving why he’s so highly rated. It’s a similar place that former Philadelphia Union homegrown midfielder Brenden Aaronson found himself in before joining Red Bull Salzburg last winter, a transfer with an impending egress date.
“It's important for him to stay focused, and that was my message to him,” Marsch said. “It's really important for him to stay focused on his development there in New York and committing himself 100 percent into what's going on there in New York, and Leipzig should be something that's not in the forefront right now.
“But I think he's mature enough to understand that and I think that the team there, also the guys that I've already worked with, the coach there that I know, the people in the club, they'll do a good job of managing that and helping him create a development path that honors what he needs.”
As a reminder that he’s still just a teenager growing into adulthood, Clark also noted the smaller tasks that await.
“I’m looking forward to the European lifestyle, just getting used to it over there,” Clark, a Minnesota native, said. “I think the first month will be difficult, of course, or [the] first couple weeks. But I do have an American manager, I do have Tyler Adams, who will help me a ton on the field and off the field. So I’m just looking forward to getting settled in, getting a place, finding your best restaurants, your grocery store, the go-to spots.”
For more from Clark, check out his full interview on The Call Up.