That is the phrase Jamie Clark used to describe his first season as head coach of the University of Washington’s men’s soccer team.
He was not describing the results on the field; he was describing what happened behind closed doors.
After leading the Huskies to a second place finish in the PAC-12 and seven wins in their last eight games, Clark had hopes of receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Division I men’s soccer tournament following a 12-4-2 record in the regular season.
“I was bitterly disappointed that we did not get a chance to play in the NCAA tournament,” Clark told TopDrawerSoccer.com. “I thought the guys deserved it, and we certainly won enough games. Unfortunately, the NCAA committee felt like we did not win the right games.”
There are only 48 teams each year [out of 203 programs] that make the field of the tournament. Out of the 48, 22 are automatic bids via winning their conference. The NCAA selection committee determines the other 26.
UCLA was the only team from the PAC-12, via the automatic bid, to play in the NCAA tournament. The Bruins made it to College Cup, but lost in the semifinals to eventual National Champions UNC Tar Heels.
“I think UCLA was marginally better than us, and I felt like UCLA was the best team in the country,” said Clark. “Again, I am going to get plenty of chances to do this, but I felt badly for our seniors.”
When asked about the difficulty of qualifying from a West Coast program, Clark, who previously coached Harvard and Creighton, said he only had a small sample size, but believed the best teams he faced last year were all from the PAC-12.
“I certainly think one team coming from our conference speaks volumes to how hard it can be to make it from the West Coast,” said Clark.
The next season offers new promise for the coach, as he looks forward to a new group of Huskies joining his squad in the fall.
“I honestly believe Darwin Jones is the best attacking player coming into college soccer next year,” said Clark about the Seattle Sounders Academy product. “He has pace and strength to go along with unbelievable technique. In the Sounders preseason camp, he was the fastest guy on the team.”
Clark was also excited about the rest of the recruiting class, plus a few transfers that have not been announced yet due to a holdup in admissions.
“I think we have three or four other guys who will end up being pros,” added the coach. “The worry for us is I don’t even know if we return double digit scoring within our whole team combined throughout their college careers.”
The lack of an experienced goal-scorer is obvious, but the Huskies do return a seasoned goalkeeper in junior Spencer Richey. The U.S. Residency Program alum has started 27 games in two years with Washington.
“Spencer is fantastic,” said Clark. “He is a really good athlete, great hands, moves well, and he has the best feet I’ve coached in a keeper.”
The Huskies will depend on Richey’s leadership next season to surpass UCLA and the rest of the PAC-12, which is set to undergo some changes in the near future.
During this offseason, the Big West Conference announced the addition of San Diego State in all sports with a TBA date for the switch in men’s soccer.
San Diego State’s impending exit will drop the PAC-12 below the required amount of teams for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
“We have teams clamoring to get in and it is not a concern at all with the amount of teams asking to be the sixth team,” said Clark replacing the Aztecs.
Despite the low number of teams, the PAC-12 continues to attract highly rated recruiting classes and well-respected coaches.
“I have to recruit against them, but it is hard to say a bad word about any of the programs [in the PAC-12],” said Clark about the addition of quality coaches to the conference in the past two seasons. “I think as a coach, it is where you want to because you should be able to recruit talent there.”
And Clark gives a lot of credit to the great location of his campus for helping to land top recruits.
“If I can’t sell University of Washington, I am doing something wrong.”
Now, he just needs to sell Washington and the PAC-12 to the selection committee.J.R. Eskilson is a staff reporter at TopDrawerSoccer.com. Follow him on or send him an email.