In many MLS matches, Ricardo Clark was a step ahead of the opposition. (Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports)
Last of four parts in the Three Amigos series that was posted on BigAppleSoccer.com on June 29, 2013
By Michael Lewis
After getting a taste of playing at the highest international level three years ago, Ricardo Clark would love to have another piece of the World Cup pie.
In 2010, Clark performed at the South Africa World Cup, helping the United States reach the second round.
“It was a good experience,” he said in a recent interview. “Obviously, it was my first time playing in a World Cup. I was just soaking it all in. To be fair, though, having [the United States] done so well in the tournament, had some exciting games, having some great memories. The game against Algeria, tying England in the first game and coming back from two down against Slovenia, there was so much excitement and great memories from that tournament. Then to get let down against Ghana, it kind of makes me want to do it all over again. To have that feeling in my head again, just to do it again man, and have a comeback, if you want to say. Just to have a second chance at it again, man. It made me a little bit more hungry.”
Whether he gets that opportunity to satiate his appetite, it remains to be seen.
At the moment, Clark is not anywhere high on U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s radar. He hasn’t been in the World Cup qualifying pool and wasn’t selected to the 23-man roster for next month’s Concacaf Gold Cup. He has 34 caps.
“It’s definitely a priority and something that I’m working towards,” Clark said of the World Cup. “It’s something I’m looking at as one of my goals. I’m taking it one day at a time, one practice at a time and then hopefully, great news comes in the future.”
Clark, who will along with his Houston Dynamo teammates will visit the Red Bulls on Sunday at 2 p.m., was drafted as the second overall pick by the New York team in 2003 when it was still known as the MetroStars.
Being taken so high in the MLS SuperDraft was never a problem of great expectations for Clark.
“I was going to go out there, play, do what I would have to do and try to enjoy it as much as possible,” he said. “When you’re a young player, you kind of just get going. Nervous nerves kind of turn to excitement and that sparks energy in practice and the games.”
For a rookie in MLS, just logging minutes is so vital. In fact, he led the MetroStars in minutes (2,590), playing in 28 games. Clark was a candidate for rookie of the year, but faded toward the end of the season. Still, he helped the team reach the playoffs and the U.S. Open Cup final, where the MetroStars lost to the Chicago Fire, 1-0.
Clark’s most memorable match that season? When he scored his first professional goal at Chicago.
“That’s when they played in that turf stadium. It was awful,” he said. “It was my first game and I was matching about against DaMarcus Beasley. Everyone knows what a great player he is, man. I looked up to him, saw the great things he did before I entered into the league. It motivated me to do well. Just playing against him, just battling with him in that game was pretty cool experience. He got the best of me one or two times, but I also stopped him one or two times. But thankfully, I got a goal in that game. It was a pretty special moment, my first goal in that game, my first in my MLS career.”
Clark’s career with the New Jersey-based team, however, did not last very long; all of two seasons. On draft day, he was dealt to the San Jose Earthquakes for player allocation money and an international player spot. That happened to go for and to former French international Youri Djorkaef, who wound up starring for the MetroStars/Red Bulls for two seasons.
“I had a kind of head’s up from my agent,” Clark said. “I knew a day before that it might happen. Yeah, to be honest it wasn’t too hard for me to deal with. I kind of took it in stride. I tried to keep the mentality not to let things faze me too much. I look at it like it as another opportunity in my career to get ahead. I consider it a blessing. It definitely was a blessing. I had a great year that year when I was traded to San Jose. It was almost like a breakout year for me. Definitely was a big stepping stone in my career.”
As promising as he was with the MetroStars, Clark blossomed into one of the league’s leading defensive midfielders with the Earthquakes. In 2006, the Quakes moved to Houston and became the San Jose Earthquakes as he helped anchor the midfield of a team that won consecutive MLS Cup crowns (also in 2007).
“With the players we had around me, it wasn’t that hard,” he said of winning a title a second successive time. “I was around great players. That core group … with [Brian] Ching, [Dwayne] De Rosario, [Ronaldo] Cerritos, Alejandro [Moreno), Craig Waibel, Pat Onstad, Brad Davis. I can keep going on. Mark Chung. I was surrounded by a lot of great players. They made it easy for me. It was a good group of players and great chemistry. Those guys had a lot of experience. Those guys made it easy for me to play on the field and I attribute a lot of my success to those guys. And [coach] Dominic Kinnear, obviously.”
And with that success comes great challenges. Clark played his way onto the U.S. National Team, scoring the winning goal in a World Cup qualifier in Trinidad & Tobago, where his father hails from. He also played in South Africa.
He eventually tried his hand with Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany, but injuries limited him to only 30 games during his tenure from 2010 to 2012.
Clark, now 30, said his time in Germany was the among the lowest points of his career, although he admitted he wasn’t exactly in the lowest of lows.
“I would say Germany because it was those times getting back on the field, there was something holding me back,” he said, referring to a fractured cheekbone that sidelined him for four weeks.
“I was out for a while. I think we got relegated that year,” Clark said. “It was hard just sitting, having to watch while our team was struggling the whole time. But saying that also, I consider it a low point in my career.”
But . . .
“I had lot of people ask me, ‘What was the low point of your career?” he said. “I don’t know if they want they’re getting a disappointing time of my career or when I wasn’t playing at my best. I don’t really know how to answer that question when people ask me. Throughout it all, I’m really enjoying it. Even if I’m injured and not playing, I’m still for the most part I’m enjoying it because that’s just the part of the game, the highs and the lows. Even though it is a low point — everybody’s different — it doesn’t mean that I am moping around, or sad or that I’m not enjoying the game. It’s just a point in a playing aspect that I’m not playing. If you want to look at it that way, that would be the low point of my career.”
After a disappointing time in Germany, Clark returned home — to the Dynamo — in August, 2012.
Asked if he was in his prime, Clark replied, “When I’m healthy and when I’m playing a certain amount of games. That’s a difficult question, man. I don’t like to say I’m in my prime because I’m always trying to improve. I don’t like to say that just for that reason. I’m always wanting to and trying to improve as a player. ”
And if Clark has his way, he will keep trying to play for a very long time.
Clark wants to play for many more years.
“Man, until my legs fall off,” he said. “But saying that, to be fair, you never know what the future is going to bring. Right now my contract with MLS is two years, plus an option year. I want to keep playing as long as I can, as long as I want to, as long as I have the desire. So I’m still enjoying it. So as long as I am doing that and have that hunger, I still want to keep playing. Everybody has their ups and downs in their careers, their mentality changes, sometimes from moment to moment. But when I look back at it all and assess the whole situation, that’s definitely how I feel.”