The Houston Dynamo’s Unsung Hero: Ricardo Clark

Much has been written over the years about the Houston Dynamo’s exciting start as a franchise. Nobody could have written a better Cinderella Story than the one that took place. We had a struggling franchise that needed a change of scenery, and a market that was often times considered a soccer hotbed; however, not a hotbed at the level of a St. Louis, San Antonio, or San Diego, as was seen at the time. The Houston populous proved everybody wrong. The San Jose Earthquakes were relocated to the Space City, and the franchise was given a second wind.

In this second wind, the franchise, now renamed the Houston Dynamo, became back-to-back champions of Major League Soccer. After those victories players like Pat Onstad, Dwayne DeRosario, and Brian Ching were regarded as the stars of the back-to-back champions. However, there was another player who performed at a top level throughout those regular season campaigns: Ricardo Clark. Sadly, he was unable to end both of those championship seasons by playing in the final; he was injured for the first one and suspended for the second.

That’s a tragedy because without Ricardo Clark I would argue that the Houston Dynamo would not have been successful those two seasons. There cannot be a player that has free reign like Dwayne DeRosario without an anchor who has a set position on the field. One who is there to recover a ball that is lost while taking risks in the attacking third. For every risk that DeRosario took that season by taking on multiple defenders, he lost the ball many times and Clark was there ready to recover it.

Therein lies the majesty of a player like Rico. He’s a player who does a job that goes unmentioned and ignored by the average spectator. If he’s doing an effective job in his position, he will rarely be mentioned in a game. However, if he makes one mistake after making the correct decision one hundred times before; he will be remembered for that one blunder. Clark rarely makes those mistakes, however. Ricardo’s job is a simple one to explain, draw a line on the field and do not let an opposing player cross it. In this case, however, it is easier said than done.

One perfect example of this job being difficult was the game against Real Salt Lake. Servando Carrasco was filling in for an injured Ricardo Clark, and within the first fifteen seconds he made a blunder that led to Real Salt Lake’s first goal. He was caught out of position way too high up the field and misjudged a ball. This gave RSL’s Javier Morales enough space to score a screamer of a goal. Later on in the game, Carrasco was again caught making the wrong decision, tried to fix it, and ended up committing a foul that the referee deemed worthy enough of a red card. These two calls cost the Houston Dynamo the game in my eyes.

In this one game, we saw how a player in the defensive mid position can cost a team the game in just two lapses in play. People are wondering how the Houston Dynamo will play without Brad Davis and Oscar Boniek Garcia during their respective World Cup training camps. The one question that everybody should be asking themselves is, “what are we going to do while Clark is injured?” It has come to light that Carrasco may not be adequate in that position. Now he won’t even be available for Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Galaxy. Even after that game, what if Rico returns and is reinjured, who will fill-in for him then? Sometimes the question that is rarely or never asked is the one that requires the most immediate answer.

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  • Michael Morales

    First, an appreciation of Rico: I understand that Klinsman is trying to draft in more players of dual citizenship, which partially explains the repeated inclusion of Jermaine Jones. He’s a quality CM, no doubt, but prone to rash challenges and positional mistakes. But aside from Beckerman and Bradley, to me the best central midfielder in MLS – and perhaps even the int’l US talent pool – is Rico. He’s the type of player that has improved his game with each passing year, and his ability not just to be a destroyer in midfield but also has consistently shown the ability to play in advanced positions, and to do it well just doesn’t get any attention. I get that he’s older and perhaps not in fashion, but anyone who has watched his play over the last season can’t deny that he is still a high-quality player.

    • Hal Kaiser

      Wonder how much his blunder in the last World Cup has hurt him at the national level.

      • Michael Morales

        It would be sad to think that’s a factor, but then again, we’re talking humans. Entirely possible that w a new regime they want a clean slate and start anew. Just a shame because Rico’s form since he returned to MLS has been fantastic.

  • Michael Morales

    Not to put too fine a point on it, I’ll say this: if Rico was available for the second leg of last year’s EC Final, we would’ve won. There’s no way he would’ve allowed SKC the time and possession they had in midfield that ultimately led to the lone goal.

    • Hal Kaiser

      Probably right. At a minimum it would have been much tougher for SKC.