Some players have a knack for adapting wherever they are on the field. With a dearth of center back options facing the Houston Dynamo heading into a crucial match with Sporting Kansas City, it was no surprise that Ricardo Clark was that player.
The 30-year-old has been one of the best players for the Dynamo this season as a defensive midfielder. With the club in a pinch, Clark took his spot 15 yards further back from where he normally plays and led the back line in holding Sporting’s potent attack at bay in a 1-1 draw.
“Rico’s a stud and I’ll leave it at that,” head coach Dominic Kinnear told MLSsoccer.com after Sunday’s game. It’s a simple but honest assessment considering the type of performance the midfielder has put up this year.
With Jermaine Taylor - who is listed as out on Thursday injury report - still recovering from a left shoulder injury and Bobby Boswell in the middle of a two game suspension, Clark will likely take one of Houston’s center back positions again when the Dynamo face the Columbus Crew (6:30 pm CT, CSN Plus).
Is it a potential long-term landing spot? The coach says it is a possibility.
“A lot of guys when you see it, they start out as defensive midfielders that end up moving back,” Kinnear said of a potential switch. “I don’t know. That’s a long time coming.”
For Clark, where he plays comes down to a simple choice of where the team needs him most. “It’s whatever situation presents itself. Right now the team needs me at center back because of suspension and injury so that’s what I will do. In terms of long term, who knows what the future will bring.”
Clark’s success at center back shouldn’t surprise observers. While in Germany center back was the position that he found the most success while playing for Eintracht Frankfurt, as well as when he was on loan at Norwegian club Stabaek. It was that time at the back that gave Kinnear the idea to try him there in 2012 when in a pinch, with good results.
“The coach [at Frankfurt] had experimented with me in that position and I was just ready to help the team and ready to play,” Clark said of his time with Eintracht. “For the most part I was pretty comfortable [against Sporting]. It's little things like that that makes it a big difference in playing in the midfield.”
With that experience, filling in the void left by the injured Taylor - whose left shoulder has ruled him out of Jamaica’s World Cup plans - and the suspended Boswell wasn’t that much of a leap; even if it was at one of MLS’s most raucous stadiums, Sporting Park. Additionally, Clark’s skills translate to the back. His galloping runs and 360 degree radius gave way to a more position-oriented game where he was worried more about holding the line than covering ground.
“When situations like this come around you don’t even think twice about it,” Kinnear said. “He’s shown he can do it and you’re just really comfortable about it.”
Added Kofi Sarkodie: “He was everywhere [against Sporting]. It’s massive when you can do that both in the central midfield position and in the center half position.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.