Catonsville residents Ethan Clark and Biggie Ruzzi may not be the tallest players on their club soccer team, but the pair has made a huge impact on the Baltimore Celtic Dynasty U13 Soccer Club’s championship run.
That squad is currently playing in the United States Youth Soccer Association national championships at the Soccerplex in Germantown, Md.
They were scheduled for 8 a.m. games on July 22, 23 and 24 and the top two teams in the pool will meet in the championship game on Saturday, July 26.
Baltimore Celtic’s group includes teams from Georgia, California and Michigan.
They earned that berth after winning the Maryland State Cup and the USYSA Region I championship in Rhode Island.
Celtic U13 is currently ranked number one in the nation by GotSoccer.com and have a record of 40 wins, one loss and eight draws in its last 49 matches.
Clark has been playing in the program, which was formerly the Baltimore Bays, since age seven and his coach is Baltimore Blast defender Mike Lookingland.
Although barely five feet tall, Clark makes up for his lack of size with his smarts, versatility and speed.
“He has a tremendous soccer brain and he’s very, very quick,” Lookingland said. “He’s one of the only guys who can play anywhere on the field and do a good job.”
Running down opposing attackers is no problem for Clark, who used to be one of Lookingland’s leading scorers, but has since moved to defense, where he has thrived.
He’s a little guy, but that’s a good thing because when he catches up to other kids (sizewise), he’s going to be very tough,” Lookingland said.
Clark’s dad Dave is with him around the clock in more ways than just being a soccer dad.
“Ethan has type 1 diabetes so I’m with him 24-7,” said his father.
Like Clark, Ruzzi is also under-sized at 4-feet-11 inches, but his game mirrors that of his close friend.
“His role is similar to Ethan’s,” Lookingland said. “He’s typically not a starter, but he can play anywhere we need him. He’s played in the back and he’s scored for us.”
Ruzzi, who is almost never called by his given name, John, also uses his wheels to overcome a height disadvantage.
“He’s a very hard worker and he’s very fast, very quick and very determined,” Lookingland said.
Ruzzi’s older brother Tom, who played at Catonsville High before graduating in 2010, has been training the pair away from the team’s practices, which have been held at McDonogh, Mount St. Joseph, Loyola Blakefield, Gilman and St. Paul’s.
“These two are like brothers. They are around each other a lot,” Tom Ruzzi said.
Biggie Ruzzi, a rising eight grader at The Lamb of God School in Halethorpe, doesn’t remember exactly when he started playing soccer, but he knows he was very small.
“Every since I was born, I’ve always had a ball at my feet,” said Biggie, who stuck with it and moved to the top program in the state because, “I loved it so much.”
In his three years in the Celtic program, after moving over from the Thunder Soccer Club, in Howard County, Biggie has suffered only three losses.
“These two are very athletic and they are very versatile, which helps them a lot,” Tom Ruzzi said. “With Biggie and Ethan, if they are not playing well up top, they put them in the back. They just want them on the field.”
Their work ethic is second to none, according to Ethan’s dad.
“It’s been a very rewarding number of years and they’ve worked very hard,” Dave Clark said. “You couldn’t be in this club if you didn’t really want it. When practice is canceled, they get so upset.”
Ethan Clark’s sister, Emma, is a rising senior standout field hockey player at Catonsville High, and she will play field hockey at Fairfield University.
His dad played soccer at Fairmont Heights, but sees more potential in his son, who will be in the eighth grade at Catonsville Middle School this fall.
“He was better than me when he was eight,” his dad said.
The Celtic U13 club team has traveled all over the country to states, such as Florida, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and New Jersey and will travel even more starting in December.
By winning the Premier East Coast Region I League, they qualified for the U14 USYS National League, which features just 16 teams in the country for the 2014-2015 season and includes tournaments in North Carolina in November and Las Vegas in March.
But, long before that, they have some unfinished business this week.
“It’s a true final four,” Dave Clark said. “It’s intense.”