Former Gophers building WPS contingent

Katie Bethke and Jennie Clark recently signed with Women’s Pro Soccer teams.

Nicolas Hallett

The Minnesota soccer program is reaching national prominence. In two of the last three seasons âÄî 2008 and 2010 âÄî the Gophers reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, and now members of those squads are being recruited to play at the highest level.

On Monday, former Gophers defender Jennie Clark signed a free agent contract with Sky Blue FC of WomenâÄôs Professional Soccer. Clark joins her former teammate Katie Bethke, who signed with the Atlanta Beat earlier this year. Another member from both Sweet 16 rosters, Kylie Kallman, was also extended a WPS contract offer, but declined in order to finish school.

âÄúWe are really excited for them,âÄù said head coach Mikki Denney Wright. âÄúI know itâÄôs been a goal of theirs for a long time to play professional soccer.âÄù

The WPS, established in 2007, is the top womenâÄôs professional soccer league in the United States, but didnâÄôt have a full season until 2009. The league consists of six teams and was founded in the ashes of the previous womenâÄôs professional league, the WomenâÄôs United Soccer Association. The WPS is nationally broadcast on Fox Soccer Channel.

In an attempt to keep the league afloat and keep travel costs to a minimum, all six WPS teams are located on the East Coast.

Additionally, the Gophers boast two more players at the professional level. Members of the 2008 team, Kelsey Hood and Lindsey Schwartz, currently play professionally in Norway and Iceland. Add in the recent additions of Bethke and Clark to the pro ranks and the Gophers have the most professionals of any Big Ten school in the last three years.

Clark and Bethke have also been recruited by their country; both trained with the U.S. Under-23 National team last year.

As a member of the Atlanta Beat, Bethke joins a team that boasts a trio of U.S. senior-team members, including Olympic gold medalists Carli Lloyd, Cat Whitehill and Heather Mitts.

âÄúI am ecstatic about becoming a part of the Atlanta Beat family,âÄù Bethke said in release. âÄúI could not ask for a better atmosphere, coaching staff and facility.âÄù

At Sky Blue FC, ClarkâÄôs contract is a one-year deal, and she will likely begin on the practice squad. If she plays well enough she may advance to the first team, but nothing is guaranteed.

âÄúIâÄôm living in the moment,âÄù Clark said. âÄúIâÄôm going to try and play for as long as I can and see what happens after that.âÄù

The current Gophers are looking to smoothly transition into the 2011 season after losing seven seniors, including six starters.

âÄúWe lost a lot of talent, no doubt about it,âÄù Denney Wright said. âÄúI hope that we learned from these seniors, because we will never be able to replace them. They were special players.âÄù