“Kofi’s a soldier,” Clark told HoustonDynamo.com. “He’s always been that type of guy, putting in the work, pushing through tough times in games and in training. So it’s expected of him. He doesn’t really complain too much.”
That determination was evident last Saturday against Columbus Crew SC when Sarkodie was bloodied and bruised after a first-half collision with teammate Raul Rodriguez yet carried on and made a surging run down the right wing to set up Giles Barnes for the winning goal.
The 23-year-old did not have his name on the back of his orange jersey, having replaced it because of the blood, but the figure creating the assist was easy to identify all the same. It was the kind of urgent run from deep that the Ohio native has become known for since he made his Dynamo debut as a rookie in 2011 and became the youngest player in franchise history to start an MLS match. For the past two years he has been a virtual ever-present.
Last season, as in 2013, the right back provided four assists—good for joint-third on the team, behind Brad Davis and Barnes. “He’s always working on his game and he’s got that in his locker, taking people on, and the goal was a good example of that,” Clark said.
With the BBVA Compass Stadium field now slightly wider than in past seasons and head coach Owen Coyle encouraging a fluent pass-and-move style, Sarkodie is hoping to use his pace and energy to fashion plenty more attacking forays this year as he looks to build on his career total of ten assists in 80 MLS regular-season games. He’s yet to score, other than in the playoffs against D.C. United in 2012.
Of course, he’s also a solid defender with sharp reflexes, as D.C. found out to their cost in May, 2013, when Sarkodie won MLS Save of the Week honors for a double stop on the goalline.
Sarkodie’s head wound from last Saturday was treated with medical glue. “It’s all right, it’s getting better,” he told HoustonDynamo.com on Wednesday. He is looking forward to facing Orlando at BBVA Compass Stadium on Friday (6 p.m. CT; TICKETS), both because he expects an exciting game against the MLS newcomers and since the Dynamo are in confident mood after starting the season with a hard-won three points against Columbus.
The visitors are looking for their first MLS victory after beginning life in the league with a 1-1 draw against New York City FC. “They like to play, they got a tie at home and I think they’re going to be coming here buzzing,” he said. “If we can keep that mentality I think we’ll be very difficult to play at home … we’ve got to keep pushing to get better every day.”
Clark agrees. “That was a great way to start the season, something to build on. It’s always good to start with a win, especially at home, and we want to ride off that,” he said.
To make it two wins from two games the Dynamo will likely have to keep Orlando’s Brazilian star quiet. Clark remembers facing Kaká in South Africa in the 2009 Confederations Cup final, when the U.S. raced into a 2-0 halftime lead before Brazil staged a comeback after the break to win 3-2.
“Hopefully that experience will help me but he’s always a dangerous player. He’s very good on the dribble, very aware on the field, he can pick up the ball deep in midfield and put it right near goal. He’s always looking for the ball, always roaming, he can shoot and pass—he’s always looking for that killer pass,” Clark said.
That’s exactly what Sarkodie delivered for Barnes last week, earning rich praise from Davis after the match. “He’s a young guy coming into his own, he’s been fantastic with us, he’s really held down that spot at right back, he’s really starting not just defending but really getting into the attack and creating plays for us,” the captain told reporters.
“Obviously the individual effort that he made on our goal was fantastic. I expect that out of Kofi and I expect a lot more of it. He’s been a great player, he has a great attitude, a great work ethic and those are the types of things that are rewarding for him to see and for us as a group to see. I’m glad he’s coming into his own.”
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com and HoustonDashSoccer.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.