FOXBORO, Mass. (WPRI) — There are 7.7 billion people on Earth.
329.5 million Americans.
4.2 million of those play soccer.
More than 800,000 of those play high school soccer.
About 45,000 play college soccer.
And only about 12,000 will play either Division I or Division II.
It’s safe to say getting to the pinnacle of college athletics is very difficult. So the odds are minuscule to be recruited twice by the same coach to two top programs.
Except for Tommy McNamara. That was his reality.
“There are not too many players I recruited twice, and I recruited him twice,” Clemson men’s soccer head coach Mike Noonan said. “He’s a special man and I’m happy I have the relationship.”
Born and raised in New York, McNamara comes from a very athletic background. A four-year varsity letterman at Don Bosco Prep in New Jersey, McNamara chose to accept an offer to play at Brown University in 2009.
The Bears, coached by Noonan at the time, were coming off a 9-7-1 season and were looking for players to help them get back into the NCAA tournament after failing to qualify that season.
While the promise of Division I soccer is already appealing enough, the offer of earning an Ivy League education along the way is a mouth watering prospect for any high schooler.
“Soccer (is) for four years, your education’s for forty years. Which one do you choose?” Noonan said in his recruiting pitch to McNamara.
McNamara stayed in Providence for four years and instantly fell in love with the diverse city.
In his first two seasons, McNamara made 38 appearances scoring eight goals and tallying four assists. He was poised to have another stellar season.
“We had the first two games of the season, so I played those first two games,” McNamara said. “We hosted a tournament and I won the MVP of the tournament and the team did great.”
He continued: “I played really well, but over the course of the first game into the second, I had a back issue. I probably shouldn’t have [played] looking back, but I made it significantly worse and that was it for the season.”
The midfielder was ultimately shut down and sat out the rest of the season.
It was difficult for McNamara to sit on the sidelines. He was a reigning Second Team All-Ivy league selection.
But his dream to play professionally was the main reason he fought his way back.
“It kind of felt like there was no other option,” McNamara said. “I have to make this work and I’m going to do everything in order to make this work.”
The back injury meant McNamara was not on the radar of many MLS teams. With one final year of eligibility, he decided to play as a graduate student.
At the time, Ivy League schools did not allow graduate students to participate in athletics. McNamara was forced to find another team. Yet his decision was rather simple.
He committed to Clemson and Noonan, his former head coach on the East Side.
In one season in South Carolina, McNamara became an All-American. Instantly, he attracted the attention of teams across the MLS.
“It immediately just improved my position professionally,” he recalled.
“I went from the year before if I left Brown to go on trial and a team not really owing me anything, to being the 20th pick by playing one more year of college soccer.”
As a top draft pick, there were many expectations to succeed for his new club, Chivas USA. Just six games into his stint, he suffered another season ending injury, this time it was to his ACL.
McNamara was back to square one. Following a brief stint with DC United, he landed at newly formed NYCFC. Still a fresh face to professional soccer, he found himself playing alongside superstar midfielders Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo.
“They treated every day as work and as a job.”
Under their guidance, McNamara became a club legend where he resided from 2015-2018.
After his time in the Big Apple came to an end, McNamara took a pitstop in Houston and eventually came back to New England, the place where McNamara’s career took off.
“To be back in New England, it feels like a second home to me,” McNamara said. “For me when you’re comfortable and happy off the field, you feel better and can express yourself more on the field.”
“He can play up front in the attack. He can score goals,” Noonan said. “He can play in the field in an attacking role. He can play as a six as a defending midfielder.
“That’s the best part about Tom is that he’s got such a good soccer brain.”
McNamara’s versatility is a contributing factor to his longevity.
“Whatever the coach asks of me, whatever it may be. Starting whatever position, that is if it’s on the bench or if it’ll be coming into that game winning, losing, defending, attacking,” he said.
“Whatever it may be I’m willing to do whatever it takes in order to make the team successful.”