I'm going to be starting a series where I look back and explore the careers of former Houston Dynamo players. I'll look at what they did in Houston, how they came to the Dynamo, where they went afterwards, and what their overall impact was. We'll start out with one of the best Dynamo players ever in midfielder Ricardo "Rico" Clark.
Ricardo Clark is arguably one of the best midfielders to ever play for the Dynamo. He had two stints in Houston and is near the top of the club record books in several categories. He was also known for his tough, but effective (and sometimes costly) tackles in the midfield.
Clark played for Houston in his first stint for four years from 2006-2009. He then returned to Houston (after spending a couple years in Europe) for his very successful 2nd stint where he played for six years from 2012-2017.
Clark scored 28 goals in MLS competition for Houston (7 in his first stint, 21 in his second stint) which is currently 7th all-time in Dynamo club history. He also added 23 assists in his career, which also ranks 7th all-time in club history. He is also 2nd all-time in club history in appearances for Houston (both in terms of MLS matches and in total matches) with 253 in MLS, and 304 total. He also completed 79.9% of his passes in his 2012-2017 tenure with the Dynamo (MLS doesn't list passing statistics from the time period of Clark's first tenure). He is truly a club legend.
Born in Atlanta, GA, Clark went to Furman University to play collegiately. Clark entered the 2003 MLS Superdraft, after a strong 2 year career at Furman, where he was selected 2nd overall by the MetroStars (now the New York Red Bulls). Clark played two years with the Stars where he scored four goals with two assists across 54 matches (47 starts). He was then traded to the San Jose Earthquakes prior to the 2005 season for Allocation Money and an International roster spot, according to a club release. Clark would spend just one season in San Jose where he scored 3 goals with 2 assists across 30 matches.
Then Clark came to Houston when that version of the Earthquakes were relocated to Houston and the Dynamo franchise was born in late 2005. Clark played for the inaugural Dynamo team and will always be in the history books for it.
Rico helped lead Houston to the MLS Cup in their first season. He scored 2 goals and added 3 assists in 31 matches as the Dynamo were the 2-seed in the Western Conference. The Dynamo knocked off 3-seed Chivas in the conferences semi's and then the 4-seed Colorado Rapids in the conference finals. Clark however was suspended for the MLS Cup Final due to yellow card accumulation, but Houston would still go on to win the Final in penalties. Clark was named to the MLS Best XI team for his efforts in the 2006 season.
The 2007 season for Clark was productive as he once again scored 2 goals with 3 assists, and once again helped lead Houston to the playoffs (and to their 2nd straight MLS Cup). However, Clark was suspended for the end of the regular season and the playoffs for an incident against FC Dallas late in the season. Houston would once again go on to win the MLS Cup without Clark. Thus making one of the biggest (and maybe saddest) quirks of Clark's career that he helped lead the Dynamo to their 2 MLS Cups, but didn't get to play in either final.
Clark once again continued to lead Houston to the playoffs the next 2 seasons, as Houston earned playoff births in 2008 and 2009. The Dynamo also won the MLS Supporter's Shield in that 2008 season. Clark scored 3 goals in 47 matches combined between those seasons. The 2009 season would mark the end of Clark's first stint in MLS.
After Clark's strong play at the end of his first tenure in Houston, Clark began to receive interest from European clubs. He would ultimately sign with Eintracht Frankfurt on a free transfer following the end of the 2009 MLS season. Clark would play in just 15 league matches across 2+ years at Frankfurt without scoring. He also spent time out on loan in 2012 with Stabaek in Norway where Clark appeared in 15 matches total.
Clark was then released from Frankfurt, which opened up the door for him to return to MLS and to return to Houston. He signed as a Free Agent with Houston during the 2012 season.
After bringing Clark back in, Houston went on a run in the 2012 MLS Cup playoffs. Even after being the final team to qualify for the playoffs as the #5 seed in the East, they knocked off 4-seed Chicago in the play-in, upset 1-seed Sporting KC in the conference semi's, and then upset 2-seed DC United in the Conference Finals. Houston would be denied the title though as they fell to the LA Galaxy in the MLS Cup final, but it was an incredible playoff run for the Dynamo. Clark ended up with 1 goal in 11 regular season matches that year.
After that initial part season, Clark really took off in Houston after his return. He scored 4 goals in 30 league matches in 2013, along with 4 assists. Houston would ultimately fall to Sporting KC in the Eastern Conference Finals 2-1 on aggregate after upsetting another #1 seed, this time the New York Red Bulls, in the Conference semi's.
The 2014-2016 seasons were not great ones for Houston, but Clark began to flourish offensively in those seasons. He scored 4 goals with 4 assists in 2014. Clark's career high in goals then came in 2015 as he scored 8 on the year, along with an assist. Clark followed that up with another 4 goal/4 assist season in 2016. Houston missed the playoffs all 3 seasons.
Rico then helped end the drought and helped Houston return to the playoffs in 2017. Houston entered the playoffs as the 4-seed, but once again went on a run all the way to the Western Conference Finals before being knocked off by Seattle in the WCF. Clark picked up 2 assists on the season, while completing 80.2% of his passes.
That marked the end of Clark's tenure in Houston as the Dynamo declined Clark's contract option following the 2017 season, making him a Free Agent. He would sign as a free agent with the Columbus Crew, but he failed to etch out consistent playing time with Columbus )even though he served in a leadership role). He ultimately played in just 20 matches across two seasons where he scored one goal and added one assist. Following the 2019 season, Clark announced his retirement from soccer.
Clark meant so much to the Dynamo franchise and community (and the community meant so much to him) that when he retired following the 2019 season, he signed a one day contract with Houston so that he could retire as a member of the Dynamo.
Following his playing career, Clark has since gotten into coaching. He joined the Vancouver Whitecaps as an assistant coach prior to the 2021 season, where he is still coaching in his 2nd season.
Clark made an impact for both club & country. He also earned his way into the United States National team picture and even played in the 2010 World Cup. He made his debut in 2005, before appearing 33 more times from 2007-2012. He made the US World Cup squad in 2010, where he played in the win over England and started the Round of 16 loss to Ghana (which wasn't Clark's best day). He scored 3 goals across 34 matches in his USMNT career.
Ricardo Clark will always be one of the best players in Houston Dynamo history. He was a key player in the super successful early years of Houston, and then in the 2010's he was one of the team's best players (even though Houston struggled at times). He is top 10 in many statistical categories, played on the inaugural Dynamo team, played a decade with the team (split two different stints), and went out of his way to sign a one day contract to retire with Houston.