HOUSTON – When Ricardo Clark came back to the Houston Dynamo last summer the thought was the club had brought in a player that would add “bite” to their midfield. An understandable assumption considering the perception of Clark’s game before he left, a physical player who never shied away from a tackle.
What the club got, however, has been much more. After three years on a European adventure that took him to Germany and Norway, Clark returned to the Dynamo last summer a changed player.
No longer is he simply a midfield brute looking to break up play, which is what he was known for prior to his departure. The Clark roaming the center of the pitch at BBVA Compass Stadium these days is much more cultured and has a savvy approach to the game that has yielded a contributor in the attack, and a player that plays a smarter game.
“As any player gets older, they get more experience and pick up on things that will help develop their game,” Clark said. “I think I’m just playing the way the game dictates. I’m picking my moments when to do professional fouls and when to get in hard and when not to, and when to manage the game a little bit.”
Clark was not always the most level-headed player. The midfielder boasted a very physical style of play in his first go-around with the club, symbolized by his infamous kick of then-FC Dallas forward Carlos Ruiz in 2007 that earned him a five-game suspension.
“We got sent off together one time,” recalled Adam Moffat with a smile. “I got sent off for a foul on [Brian] Mullan and he came up and pushed me in the face so we both got red-carded. We walked off with arms over each other’s shoulders.”
From the looks of it, things have changed since Clark's red card-prone first stint in Houston. While he still plays with the same sideline-to-sideline approach that the fans and his teammates love, the way he does it has managed to keep him out of the referee’s book in 21 games since returning.
“Guys have different skills,” Moffat continued. “Some guys are good at dribbling the ball and some guys are good at going in for challenges. He’s genuinely good at it. It’s not like he’s holding back, but it’s a skill-set he has and he’s all over the place helping the team.”
Clark has managed implementing those skills while playing at the same high pace, high energy level that allows him to cover ground that makes things better for the players around him.
“What he does for the team, the casual fan may not see it because it doesn’t come up in the stats, but I think the guys appreciate what he does and I know the coaching staff definitely does,” head coach Dominic Kinnear said. “He’s not going to get 20 goals in a year, but what he does week-in and week-out we know how valuable he is to the team.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.