It has been a productive offseason for Columbus Crew SC head coach and sporting director Gregg Berhalter. He and his staff are working diligently to strengthen the weaknesses on the Black & Gold roster.
Youthful players such as Gyasi Zardes, Artur, and Milton Valenzuela were added to the roster, and most recently an elder statesman in midfielder Ricardo Clark.
The 34-year-old midfielder has 13 years of Major League Soccer experience and appeared in 337 regular season games and 25 postseason games in his career. Clark has two MLS Cups to his credit and looks to bring a veteran presence to the Crew SC midfield.
To get to know Ricardo Clark better and learn and what he can contribute to the Black & Gold, Massive Report reached out to Dynamo Theory co-editor Derek Stowers. He generously took time out of his day to help us become more familiar with the new midfielder.
Massive Report: Obviously Ricardo Clark comes in with a wealth of MLS experience. What are some of his strengths and weaknesses as a player?
Derek Stowers: Rico was one of my favorite Dynamo players to watch and easily ranks among the best holding midfielders in MLS. Strength wise, he’s just an incredible defensive player. He reads the game well and can pick out passes with ease, make precise tackles, or force opponents to pass back due to his marking.
On the other end of the ball he’s a capable finisher from distance, though often elects to pass it off (expect him to give it a try once a game following a corner kick or poor clearance though). He’s a very smart passer as well, but I think one of his weaknesses is that he plays too safely with his passing. Instead of being a defensive mid that can play a precise long pass to a streaking forward, he moves the ball side-to-side. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because his team maintains possession, but it also allows defenses more time to get numbers back.
MR: Clark has a decent disciplinary record in MLS, but isn’t above committing an infraction or two. Would you describe him as a “midfield boss” and what allows him the ability to avoid getting red cards?
DS: I think in the past I would easily describe him as a midfield boss, but lately with the Dynamo he’s had partners that can do the dirty work for him which has helped him avoid a card from the referee’s pocket. Now, I think he’s matured and reads the game very well.
Having players like Luis Garrido a few years ago and Juan David Cabezas last season allowed them to bully players into making poor passes while he marked his man but was quick to pick up the errant pass. I don’t think he can be quite the imposing player that he used to given his age, but he’s still more than capable of well timed tackles.
MR: Crew SC have a lot of youth on its roster this season, what can Clark teach those young players in Black & Gold this season?
DS: Rico is a player that can lead by example. He’s often one of the first to arrive at practice and one of the last to leave and he has stayed in incredible shape. Learning how to be a professional through example is very important for younger players and they’ll gravitate towards Clark’s work ethic along with his friendly (though tough on the field) nature. He’ll make players fight for their time which will help them improve.
MR: Clark previously spent time overseas at Eintracht Frankfurt and Stabæk before finding his way back to MLS, did you notice a change in play after his stint in Europe?
DS: It’s difficult to say for certain because he’s evolved somewhat as a player during his second stint in Orange largely due to changes in personnel and coaching changes. I think tactical awareness has improved which I think helped him adapt to playing with those newer players. What eased him when he did come back was he was coming back to a Dominic Kinnear coached team – a system he’s very familiar with, but after Dom’s departure he showed that he could fit alongside players in new systems very well including in Wilmer Cabrera’s 4-3-3 where he was playing as a midfielder in a wider position.
MR: What’s a fun fact about Ricardo Clark that fans may not know?
DS: For the vanilla “fun facts”, the Houston Dynamo did one of the “get to know a player” write-ups, but my favorite fact/moment about Rico actually happened during his USMNT career. Clark rocketed a shot from distance during the 2009 World Cup Qualifying against Trinidad and Tobago in Port of Spain to put the US up 1-0 in the 62nd minute. The cool moment about it is that Clark’s father spent a large amount of his youth in T&T and was able to witness it in person. I always found that to be just a neat trivia thing about him.
Massive Report would like to extend a thank you to Derek and Dynamo Theory for taking time to chat with us about Clark and help fans learn more about the veteran midfielder.