Sporting Kansas City Academy and Sporting KC II defender Nati Clarke has been named MLS NEXT Rising Star of Matchday 19 for his performance in Sporting KC II's 4-0 clean sheet victory over Colorado Rapids 2 on Sunday night at Rock Chalk Park.
Clarke, a Sporting KC U-19 player has been a mainstay at leftback for head coach Benny Feilhaber all season long. He leads all Sporting KC Academy players in second-team appearances (11), starts (11), minutes (976) and assists. In the match against Rapids 2, the 18-year-old played on the left side of a back four consisting of Nassim Mekideche, Chris Rindov and Lucas Rosa. This quartet has played together on four occasions this season posting an undefeated record of 2-0-2 with one shootout win.
Helping goalkeeper Ethan Bandre earn his team-best third clean sheet of the season, Clarke stimied a potent Rapids 2 attack that leads MLS NEXT Pro in goals scored (45). The Topeka native led all players in interceptions (three) and ranked second in clearances (two). He paced SKC II in possession won with nine as well.
Born in Ethiopia and raised in Topeka, Kansas, Clarke joined the Sporting KC Academy in 2016. He has represented the United States at the U-15 youth level, notably competing in the 2019 UEFA U-15 Development Tournament. He donned the captain's armband in two matches during the tournament and converted his penalty kick in a shootout against host Poland. Clarke recently returned from Washington D.C. where he competed in the second annual MLS NEXT All-Star Game presented by Allstate, helping guide the West to a comeback victory and converting his shootout attempt after entering the match at halftime.
Sporting KC II and Clarke have a busy week ahead of them, starting with a Sunday night showdown against Houston Dynamo 2 at SaberCat Stadium. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. CT on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV. The group will then travel to Tacoma for a midweek match with Tacoma Defiance on Wednesday at 9 p.m. CT before finally returning home on Sunday, Aug. 13 to take on Timbers2 at 6 p.m. CT at Rock Chalk Park. Tickets for the Timbers2 match are on sale at SeatGeek.com.