CARSON, Calif. – The conventional logic ahead of Saturday’s MLS Cup final was that Ricardo Clark was playing to make up for opportunities lost, specifically to fill a void carved out after missing Houston’s championship wins in 2006 and 2007.
That storyline, however, wasn’t driven by Clark himself.
Sure, he was disappointed to watch back-to-back MLS Cups from the stands because of suspension – due to yellow card accumulation in 2006 and a suspension for kicking Carlos Ruiz in 2007 – but redemption wasn’t on his mind during the Dynamo’s 3-1 loss.
“For whatever reason, I didn’t make the other finals. To be honest, I wasn’t really looking at it that much from my perspective as, ‘Oh, finally I get to play in a final,’” Clark told MLSsoccer.com in a sober Houston locker room at the Home Depot Center. “I was more looking at it as, ‘It’s another game and a final.’ I wanted to make the most of the opportunity. I just wanted to live in the moment and try to take advantage of it. I tried my best.”
And for the first half of Saturday’s title match, the Dynamo midfield’s best was more than good enough.
Clark and Adam Moffat were clean on the ball and strong in the tackle, forcing LA into wide areas where Corey Ashe and Kofi Sarkodie kept Christian Wilhelmsson and Mike Magee under wraps. And after Calen Carr gave the visitors a 1-0 lead just minutes before the end of the half, it looked like Clark’s first MLS Cup as an active participant might end in storybook fashion.
But like any good story, there was a twist.
Just five minutes after Omar Gonzalez evened the score at 1-1 in the 60th minute, Clark threw himself in front of Magee’s bicycle attempt, blocking the shot but also prompting referee Silviu Petrescu to blow his whistle for a handball and a penalty kick.
Despite protests from the Dynamo, Landon Donovan calmly slotted the ensuing shot past Tally Hall for what would be the game-winning goal, a memory that Clark certainly won’t look back on fondly.
“I haven’t seen the replay of the PK,” Clark said. “I don’t know if it was maybe a little too harsh. I don’t know.”
“I’m just trying to save a goal. That was my first thought,” he continued. “I thought it definitely hit part of my body, but everything happened so fast. It’s hard to say.”
It’s even harder to say when Clark and the Dynamo will get another opportunity to add to their trophy case. A dream may have slipped away on Saturday from Clark and his teammates, but he certainly wasn’t reflecting about finals past in the aftermath.
“It’s just a tough one, man. At the end of the day, it wasn’t meant to be,” Clark said. “I’m proud of everybody and the effort they put in today. We tried our best, and that’s all we could do.”