The plan was for Ricardo Clark to take his foot off the pedal.
The Houston Dynamo midfielder was making his first appearance back in the lineup Saturday night against the Vancouver Whitecaps after missing four matches due to a hamstring injury. So while he sat back to prevent another setback with his health, midfield partner Alex was the one who was supposed to get forward.
Things changed, however, when left back DaMarcus Beasley exited due to injury in the 24th minute. Alex slid to left back, and Clark was tasked with testing his hamstring with runs into the attack. It proved to be a positive turn of events as the midfielder scored the opening goal nine minutes later to give Houston a 2-0 win at BBVA Compass Stadium.
“Obviously injuries are frustrating, but that’s the way it goes,” said Clark, who is now tied with Giles Barnes for second on the season scoring chart with six goals. “It was a four- to six-week injury, and I tried to make it back earlier. I’ve had license to get in the box, and I think that just comes with the role of my position. I just try and be in the box at the right time and take advantage of my opportunities on goal, and thankfully I was able to be in the right place at the right time and make the most of it.”
Clark injured his hamstring after scoring his last goal on Aug. 1 vs. Sporting Kansas City. The midfielder’s last touch of the ball in that match was a headed goal, but he immediately pulled up when he landed. Coyle has said that Clark tried to talk his way onto the field days after the initial injury, but caution prevailed.
“He pushed himself so hard to get himself fit from the hamstring that he gave himself a calf knock, and that’s what delayed him,” Coyle said. “The hamstring was ready to go during the week at Colorado [Wednesday], but the calf was just too tender. We couldn’t take the chance.
“He’s such an important part of the team and a valuable player, I didn’t want to risk him playing one or two games and then miss him for seven or eight again. You see the impact he has on the team.”
Finally back in the mix Saturday, Clark picked up where he left off. His last goal, against Sporting Kansas City, eclipsed his previous season-best total of four. His goal against the Whitecaps, which came off an assist from Designated Player Erick ‘Cubo’ Torres who was making his first start for the Dynamo, wasn’t necessarily a thing of beauty.
Clark lunged to get a toe on the ball, but as has been the case in a season in which he’s been given license to get forward, it found its way across the line.
“’Rico wasn’t 100 percent, but the fight and energy, obviously with the goal, but everything besides that was great," said Beasley, whose potential role in two upcoming USMNT September friendlies was to be determined later Saturday night. "We needed his energy, his presence on the field is so big for us.
“I think Owen gives [Clark] a little more range to go up and down,” Beasley said. “... You see what he can do, he’s a box-to-box midfielder. He’s a complete player as far as midfielders go. I’m glad I have him on my team. That was only a 70-percent ‘Rico today. When he gets to 100 percent, I can’t wait to see that.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.