Kiwi teen follows US football dream
New Zealand under-20 football international Aaron Clapham has a chance to follow fellow Cantabrian Ryan Nelsen's path to a professional contract in the United States.
Clapham is part of the Major League Soccer (MLS) combine squads playing in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, ahead of the MLS draft on Friday.
A MLS contract would be a perfect birthday present for Clapham, who turns 22 that day.
The former Aranui High School student is one of 53 hopefuls seeking offers from the 15 MLS clubs. If he makes the grade he will join All Whites Duncan Oughton (Columbus Crew), Andy Boyens (New York Red Bulls) and Jarrod Smith (Seattle Sounders) in the MLS ranks.
Clapham was Mainland premier league player of the year in 2005 at the age of 18 and was widely regarded as Canterbury's most promising player since All Whites Nelsen and Ben Sigmund.
The midfielder's career track since has been uncannily similar to Nelsen's, who scored a football scholarship to Macalester College in Minnesota before being lured to the top-tier Stanford University team. Nelsen had a stellar MLS career, captaining Washington club DC United to the MLS Cup title before joining English premier league club Blackburn Rovers where he has been captain since 2005.
Clapham, who played his club football for Western, left Christchurch in 2005 for a scholarship to St Francis University in Pennsylvania. After two seasons, 37 games and eight goals there he was snapped up by the University of Louisville, a top college in Kentucky.
He was selected on the All-Big East conference all-star team last season and is only the second player in Louisville to be invited to the MLS combine.
Clapham is playing on a combine squad coached by former Scotland goalkeeper and former All Whites coach Bobby Clark, who signed Nelsen for Stanford.
"Aaron has distinguished himself as among the top players in college soccer," Louisville head coach Ken Lolla said on the college's website.
"His desire to play at the next level has fuelled his growth and development.
"We are excited for him and this opportunity to fulfil his dreams."
Clapham comes from a football family. His older sister, Sara, has represented the Football Ferns and is also playing college football in the United States. His mother, Angie, was a Canterbury representative and his father, Ray, was a Canterbury women's coach.