[USA-EL SALVADOR] Two years ago, defender Clarence Goodson left the USA after discussions about a new MLS contract broke down and a foreign offer came through unexpectedly.
His departure not only came shortly after he earned first cap in a 2-0 defeat of Sweden at Home Depot Center, but opened up a whole new world: that of European soccer. In the 2008 European season, he helped IK Start earn promotion to Norway’s top league, and last year he played regularly as Start finished ninth among the 16 teams.
In the past two years he’s also inched his way onto the fringes of the potential World Cup player pool, and is giving MLS candidates Chad Marshall and Jimmy Conrad some stiff competition for one of the centerback slots. With Conrad suspended, U.S. coach Bob Bradley recalled Goodson for the match Wednesday against El Salvador (7 p.m. ET, ESPN Classic, Galavision) in Tampa, Fla.
“You have improve every aspect of your game in Europe and this is what I felt I had to do to further my career,” said the University of Maryland product who left MLS after playing his first four pro seasons in Dallas. San Jose had claimed him the expansion draft prior to the 2008 MLS season but negotiations on a new contract never reached fruition.
“I did not ask to leave Dallas, and would have been glad to stay there, but in fact they never offered me a new contract,” says Goodson, taken by Dallas in the 2004 SuperDraft with the seventh overall pick. “Then they told me to tell the league I didn’t want to play in San Jose, which I didn’t really understand.
“I was ready to go to San Jose and we discussed a contract and I thought we had a deal, but for whatever reason it didn’t get done. I don’t know why. I had thought about going to Europe if things didn’t work out with MLS, and had a few trials with German clubs but I was in camp with the national team and didn’t want to leave at that point.”
Goodson scored his second U.S. goal during a 3-1 loss to Honduras Jan. 23 at Home Depot Center when he got his head to a Brad Davis corner kick. He headed back to join Start for preseason training, and after Start had played a few preseason games in La Manga, Spain, Bradley contacted the club about borrowing him for a week or so.
“Not every club in Europe is the same but most of the time they try to do what’s best for the player and the club,” he says. “Teams from all over Europe are always watching you, so there are opportunities that you probably wouldn’t get playing in MLS, and that’s no disrespect to MLS. I think it’s a tremendous league and it’s getting better all the time, and I hope to play there again someday. But right now I’m very happy to be where I am.”
Where he is, is Kristiansand, a small city – yet it is the sixth-largest in Norway -- with a population of about 80,000 tucked into the very southern tip of the country. The climate, says Goodson is more like that of Seattle, which is where his wife his from, though he met her in Norway. They were married in Tacoma in January of last year.
“It’s colder and of course we get snow, but I’d say during the winter the average temperature is about 35 degrees,” he says. “The summers are very pleasant, around 70 degrees, and it really is a nice place to live, like a resort in that it’s right on the water and there’s a lot to do.”
The club isn’t among Europe’s elite, but it is where Red Bull coach Hans Backe enjoyed some success. It offered a trial last September to Jamaican international Lovell Palmer, who joined the Houston Dynamo training camp this month, and as far as tradition – or at least history is concerned -- it’s 105 years old.
“The people are great, very friendly, and they all speak English, which makes it a lot easier, I have to admit,” says Goodson. “But they take their soccer very, very seriously, and that’s one of the best things about playing in Europe; to be in a place where soccer is very important.”
He’ll earn his 10th cap if he plays against El Salvador. This is the final year of his three-year contract, so the timing of the World Cup – should he make the squad – might be ideal to trigger another move. Yet the bigger picture will have to wait.
“I really can’t look that far ahead,” he says. “One thing about playing in Europe and something Bob is always reminding us with the national team is you have to be focused.
“I think we’re approaching this game in the right way. Guys know what’s at stake and any time you pull on the shirt it’s a great feeling."