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The case for Ricardo Clark
by Ridge Mahoney, June 8th, 2010 2:12AM

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TAGS:  men's national team, world cup

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[UNDER THE MICROSCOPE] Considering the space and time afforded the U.S. central midfield in the second half against Turkey, just about anybody playing in a rougher, scrappier game with Australia would suffer by comparison with Jose Francisco Torres, who dug into tackles and used his touches well as the Americans rallied from a 1-0 deficit to beat the tiring Turks, 2-1.

In the eyes of many fans and journalists that performance moved Torres alongside Michael Bradley in a preferred starting XI against England, yet both Torres and Maurice Edu sat out the Australia game as Ricardo Clark and Bradley went the full 90 in a 3-1 victory. The most likely scenario is that all four will appear in the group stage, since they offer different abilities and aren’t strangers to cautions. But which pairing Coach Bob Bradley will use in the World Cup opener against England is harder to project.

Examining his game minute by minute, touch by touch reveals that Clark played a very solid first half against Australia with virtually no turnovers, and while less efficient in the second half still broke up plays and set in motion attacking moves. His tremendous range has in the past been betrayed by sloppy passing and overzealous recoveries from poor starting positions, but there were few examples of those shortcomings on Saturday.

Clark glanced around constantly to check his positioning and that of his teammates and opponents, which is an encouraging trend for a player sometimes prone to tunnel vision and ball-watching.

In the first half alone, he helped set in motion three threatening attacks, one of which produced a goal:

He scraped a ball away from Josh Kennedy in the U.S. half and recovered quickly enough to find Clint Dempsey with a flicked ball; Dempsey turned that possession into a through ball that Robbie Findley took past keeper Mark Schwarzer but shot wide. Clark played several such balls during the 90 minutes and most of the time was perfectly willing to play it safe and square rather than force it upfield.

He lunged into a tackle deep in his own half and as he went head over heels, literally, from the collision, Bradley launched the attack that produced Dempsey’s low shot and a fingertip save by Schwarzer.

In the 31st minute, stationed near the left touchline, Clark switched play with a crossfield ball to Steve Cherundolo, who darted clear down the right side to hit a cross Edson Buddle headed home for the second U.S. goal. Cherundolo made a great play after Clark spotted the right back in acres of space and chipped a 40-yard ball right to his feet.

A few of his first-half passes could have been more precise – he rolled a pass a yard or two behind Cherundolo, who nevertheless collected and kept it, Findley mis-trapped and lost a ball he should have controlled – but none of them went to the opposition.

The second half wasn’t as good, though it started well when Clark stripped Vince Grella of the ball in the Australia half to set up a scoring chance. A couple of his turnovers could have been costly, and he lost one ball not more than 30 yards from goal though nothing came of it.

Clark also coughed one up near the center circle but by immediately applying pressure – one of the holy truths preached by Bob Bradley – helped the U.S. get it right back. A foul by Michael Bradley awarded Australia a ball he was tussling for, on another occasion they missed connections and the Aussies picked up the loose ball. He fought through a couple of double-teams to keep possession but also came off second best once or twice.

Most of his passes found their target. In the second half, Clark tried a through ball that crossed the midfield line; though it was intercepted, he and his teammates were in good spots to defend. He committed two fouls, one early in the half near midfield. Very rarely did he get near the sidelines except when trying to win the ball; with the U.S. in possession, he stayed in the left channel to give Dempsey plenty of room out wide, yet also provided support by stationing himself five to 10 yards away prior to Dempsey taking off on his runs. Occasionally he slid across midfield to aim balls for Landon Donovan.

Of the central pair, Bradley committed more turnovers in the first half, yet got forward on a few occasions, triggered two dangerous attacks with early balls out of the back, and drilled a fierce shot on goal that Schwarzer parried. The active, aggressive Aussies hit a few American players more than once; hard tackles took out Dempsey several times. Clark limped off in stoppage time with a tweaked hamstring, which might have impaired him in the second half as Bradley’s game grew stronger.

Aside from being knocked ass over teakettle in that first-half tackle, Clark did nothing spectacular. To the tasks assigned to him, however, he did most of them well.



0 comments
  1. Gregory Weiss
    commented on: June 8, 2010 at 9:39 a.m.
    Got to say I like this kind of tactic analysis. It puts into words the things that happen off camera that we only get as a gestalt. Any chance somebody does this for each player on some obscure website out there? I'd be interested.

  1. Mike Gaynes
    commented on: June 8, 2010 at 11:44 a.m.
    What Clark showed against Australia is that, when he keeps his head, he can perform more than adequately in a no-pressure situation against middling competition. The fact that this is so noteworthy, however, argues against -- not for -- his inclusion in the US lineup. Maurice Edu does all the things Clark did as a matter of routine, and he brings a genuine offensive tactical awareness that Clark utterly lacks. And Torres, who performs on an entirely different level offensively, has dramatically improved his defensive work in recent appearances. I believe both Edu and Torres should, and will, start in the US midfield with Donovan and Bradley, with Holden and Beasley as the preferred reserves. And I think Clark has probably made his last appearance in South Africa, which is as it should be. Adequate doesn't cut it at this level, and the US has better choices. Much better.

  1. Robert Kiernan
    commented on: June 8, 2010 at 11:54 a.m.
    What isn't being said here is that our defense looked rocky on many an occasion and one reason for this in all the warm up matches was because the defensive midfielders were not willing or able to track back or wide quickly enough to help out the defense. Clark looked out of sorts against the Turks in Philadelphia last week... and when Spector made his long run up field didn't drop back far enough to help prevent the counter attack. This has been a problem for our team for some time now and with Bob Bradley having his wing fullbacks pushing up into the attack so often and so far, it is essential for both the defensive mids to be able to shift side to side to provide cover... your assessment of Clark is dominated by his attacking skills from a defensive position, but he didn't seem to be keeping the Aussies from getting in crosses from the flank very effectively and for a defensive midfielder in a stretched 4-2-2-2 formation that is a crucial part of his primary responsibilities. It seems certain that we will be conceding goals if we don't find a way to tighten up the work between the defense and the defensive midfielders... this isn't just Clark's fault but since Bradley seems to go more with the play forward, the other central midfielder really is called upon more to sweep in front of the central defenders or you get the case of the stoppers moving up too far into the midfield, as was the case several times from DeMerit against the Aussies. You can count me in with those who wish to see more of Torres in the midfield... it was clear from the times he was out there in the first half against the Czechs and the second half against the Turks that we had MUCH better possession in the midfield than the times when he wasn't out there and against a team like England that will be more than just another meaningless statistic ... if our center backs look as tentative and continue to find themselves pulled too far into the midfield while we have our wing fullbacks overlapping to provide width and crossing, we seriously risk seeing the English sending midfielders on diagonal runs BEHIND them staying onside and being available to receive any and all crosses coming from a counter attack from the flanks vacated by our wing backs... that Turkish goal wasn't a fluke, it was an overlapping play that lead to a turnover and inadequate cover... primarily by our defensive midfielders. Frankly I'd rather see Edu and Torres playing together but that's not likely...Michael Bradley is always on the field good game or bad... but he and Clark play much too similar a style to get our team playing effectively... but since all three CB's seem to be off their game, I posit that we would be better served by using Edu at on of THOSE spots and pairing Torres and Bradley in front of him.

  1. Mike Gaynes
    commented on: June 8, 2010 at 12:05 p.m.
    Robert, I think you've got it just about right except I'd play Edu in front of Bradley, not behind him. Both track back well, but offensively I like Edu's ball control in close quarters and his ability to poach a goal. And given the dire situation in central defense, I think Bradley's physical presence is going to be needed back there.

  1. David Sirias
    commented on: June 8, 2010 at 12:23 p.m.
    Soccer America, are you paying attention! Many fans weith different inclinations are clamoring for Edu, Bradley, AND Torres against England. I am one of them. And there is a reason for this. Rico Clark is a good player but lacking in sophistication and prescience againt the really good teams. Against England Donovan and Dempsey should share the role withdrawn striker/ wide player. The will keep the England defense honest because they will never know when Donocan makes a run. Remember Dovovan IS the original speed forward before we found out by luck last year ( yes Bob you lucked into this ) that we perform best with a speed guy up top. Is the Coach smart enough to see the obvious? Or has he overthought things and going with what he knows? Either way the USA needs a new leader for the next cycle regardless of what happens.

  1. Christian Navarro
    commented on: June 8, 2010 at 1:09 p.m.
    THESE types of articles are the ones who prompted me to cancel my membership. It is just depressing that journalists like yourself have not a clue as to what it is that you are talking much less analyzing about! Is IVES GALARACEP the only writer left out there that actually does a good analysis and calls it the way it is actually? Ridge take your rose colored glasses off! get a hint go to www.soccerbyives.net

  1. Philippe Fontanelli
    commented on: June 8, 2010 at 1:20 p.m.
    Ridge seems that nepotism is the way this team will line up. Including Clark (he must be your adopted son) or you either watched high school or college at your best. since when is mediocrity the apex? Clark only touched balls that were safe which my 11 year old does as well. Did he do anything to balance the game or did he make the impact? Due to him and Bradley (another nepotism) the defense was in shambles. The defensive middfield never came out of the dressing room. Alas....

  1. Ric Fonseca
    commented on: June 8, 2010 at 1:43 p.m.
    I agree with Antonio. Banal Bob Bradley can't see the soccer trees for the forest, and I also somewhat agree with Christian - though why is he still writing a comment if he cancelled his "membership?" However, there seems to be just a tad much favoritisim emanating from the deep annals of Soccer America, though Gregory Weiss raises a good point about lack of individual player analysis as I'd like to see what someone else OTHER THAN RIDGE has to say about other players hopefully OBJECTIVELY! Meantime, PLAY ON!!!

  1. John D. Archimede
    commented on: June 8, 2010 at 2 p.m.
    I don't want to sound like I am joining in on the Torres bandwagon but I must because I didn't see enough creativity from Clark in the midfield and to keep him in the Australia game for 90 minutes was not right. Torres needs to get his time on the field and start against England not bring him in at half time if things don't go right. His vision and control of the midfield is critical against England with Gerrard, Lampard and company counter attacking. I hope Coach Bradley wakes up now not later when it is too late.

  1. Christian Navarro
    commented on: June 8, 2010 at 2:18 p.m.
    as far as the subscription i meant the actual magazine. There is no objective analysis as far as Soccer America goes. The only reason I am up in arms is because I am tired of seeing mediocrity accepted as a great outing. I have always said that if it is demanded it accomplished. For example, look at the last confederations cup; everyone and their mothers was upset and demanded more from the USA and they came through! I'm tired of the "they are just way better" excuses. I feel we have the athletes we just need to know how to use them! I am on the Torres bandwagon because I've seen him play in the Mex League. He is great plus, I guess it's too late now,but Edgar would have helped a lot! unfortunately it seems to me that a lot of journalists seem to make excuses for BB and his choice of selections when it comes to our national team. People want the USA to evolve into a great soccer nation, but how can we when the proper people aren't questioned which in turn leads to more questions, which in turn torques the proper screws which in turn makes people more accountable. It is a chain reaction, and until this occurs we will always be mediocre and play second fiddle to anyone we play because "they are too good". Soccer America hire my ass, and trust me, I will give you objectivity!

  1. Rodney Thurow
    commented on: June 8, 2010 at 2:45 p.m.
    Robert is right on. Clark is right there with Borenstien. They should have been left at home and a couple U20s should have been brought along to hopefully gain some experience for 2014. Clark doesn't have the quickness to perform at this competition. He was excellent in the MLS and will probably be fine in the pysical Bundesliga. In a speed and tech game he is a red card waiting to happen and then we are playing down a man.

  1. Sutton Stern
    commented on: June 8, 2010 at 2:49 p.m.
    Great article. Would love to see more like it. Charges of nepotism are silly. Bradley starts as the starting center offensive mid for Borussia Moechengladbach and I he's not related to any of the coaches on that team. Say you don't like Bradley as a player and think someone else should play instead, but leave the nepotism schtick to the high school freshman left off the JV team. Christian, the same Confederations Cup team that "came through!" as you put it included Bradley and Clark in the central midfield. Why do arm-chair coaches omit this fairly sizable data point? Your praise the performance but neglect to attribute the success to the players on the field. Bradley is a very good offensive talent who is capable of creating chances, especially on the counter. He is a poor one-on-one defender because he lacks quickness and ends up with tackles that look too aggressive, but which are merely late. This is his main liability as a player and disqualifies him from the defensive or holding mid role. His defensive positioning is fantastic and rarely does the midfield lose shape when he and Clark are together. Clark is not a creative presence but he is tactically very smart and esecutes the game plan as his coach draws it up. This accounts for our success as much as Howard, Donovan, and Dempsey. I like Torres too. I like him a lot. But until you can say that he provides the tactical advantages in that most tactical area on the field, the central midfield, I say it he would be the choice of those who think a step over move or a bicycle kick is the apex of soccer ability, the same people who have no concept of shape or tactics and its incredible importance, especially for teams short on EPL or La Liga-level individual talent, like the US.

  1. Christian Navarro
    commented on: June 8, 2010 at 3:18 p.m.
    You make it seem as if the kid starts every single game in the Bundesliga. the only reason he started was because the player in front of him was injured. "Red"Cardo doesn't deserve to be on this team as much as Born"suck". The beauty of this situation is that you did point out that when it is demanded they tend to preform at a higher standard. On the other hand the only reason they won was because of individual talents not including your "Red"cardo. Charlie Davies, Landon Donovan, and Clint Dempsey carried that team all the way to the final with the help of MB. I have no problem with MB but all of this happened for the most part because he played no role in the games. I have the games taped and every time i actually go through them I fail to see where "red"cardo made any significant contribution. Thank God he was invisible for the most part just like this game. You make "Red"cardo seem like our savior, but we do have better! Maurice Edu for one..and if it weren't for Arm chair coached like myself Greatness wouldn't have been demanded form our team in Africa the last time around! Like I said if it is not demanded it will not get accomplished; hence, MB's comments after the game: "All the f------ experts in America , everybody who thinks they know about" ... point proven! Oh! and while you are at it why don't you make an argument for Sacha Kljestian.

  1. Arturo Gonzalez
    commented on: June 8, 2010 at 3:19 p.m.
    This is Part I of a two part series. Up next: "Why Bornstein is USA's Misunderstand Defensive Anchor." Look for it tomorrow.

  1. Sutton Stern
    commented on: June 8, 2010 at 3:36 p.m.
    Christian, you are dead wrong Bradley and Moenchengldbach. Also do you think all contributions in a game are made with the ball? When you say Clark didn't do anything, are you including what he did off the ball? May surprise you to know over 95% of what a player does in a game happens away from the ball. And often this is a better measurement of their contribution to their teams success or lack thereof then the more obvious kind of measurement (goals, great passes, crunching tackles, etc.). Would it be nice if he were better with the ball and could have more of an offensive impact, certainly. I'm not opposed to Edu. He is just a risk, because he is unproven at this level. he barely got any time on the field with Rangers this year. To dismiss the role our two central mids played in our greatest success as a soccer-playing nation as "nothing" does not do a whole lot for your argument. As far as Bornstein goes, he's useful for the changing the subject, but we aren't talking about him. But since you bring him up, unlike the central midfield where there are a number of good options, we are SOL at left back. We just have no one who can play that position apart from Bocanegra. Bornstein won the job purely by default. Although I wonder if Specter could play if Boca couldn't or if Boca had to help us in the central defense, which looks grim right now. The Maginot line was stronger than our current back 4.

  1. Rodney Thurow
    commented on: June 8, 2010 at 3:44 p.m.
    Can we please not look at the Confederations Cup as if it was a wonderful trip. We were 1 - 3 against teams that made it to the world cup with the second win against Egypt. We led that tournament in 1 stat, cards recieved. We were second in fouls committed behind only South Africa. http://www.fifa.com/confederationscup/statistics/teams/index.html Clark's inability to stay with the quickness of Italy's midfield led to his red card. Maybe he can play in the third game if we have already sealed advancement. Otherwise I really don't want to see him on the field. I have no problem with M. Bradley being on the field, however both Torres and Edu are much better pairings. Also remember Bradley is very capable of getting a red card for his lack of quickness also. See stats for game against Spain.

  1. Sutton Stern
    commented on: June 8, 2010 at 4:01 p.m.
    Not see the Confed Cup as a wonderful trip? I think we have just completed our journey down the rabbit hole. I admit as a soccer performance it didn't measure up to the greatness of our friendly against Turkey the other day (Torres) our the fact that we only lost to the Czechs by two goals in the other friendly (Edu, defensive center mid and central defender), but you have to admit it was still pretty good.

  1. Rodney Thurow
    commented on: June 8, 2010 at 5:04 p.m.
    Fine then it is the rabbit hole we are down. I however can't reguard a dimantling by Italy, 3-1, 42 % possession, & out shot 22 to 10 and the beatdown by Brazil, 3-0, 41% possession, & out shot 23 to 9 as good games. The game against Egypt was a wonderful win against a team we should beat. Spain was an awesome win with a keeper absolutly "standing on his head" as we were outplayed, 44% and outshot 29 to 9. And the final where Brazil spotted us a 2 goal lead and only played the final 55 minutes and we still only got 41% possession and were outshot 31 to 9. Yes it was a "wonderful learning experience" and blah-blah-blah however I can't accept any of those 4 games as being a good performance. As for the 1st half of the Czech game, (Torres & Edu) and the 2nd half of the Turkey game, (Torres & Bradley) I'll take those over the 1st half Turkey, (Clark & Bradley) or the Australia game (Clark & Bradley) every time.

  1. Mike Gaynes
    commented on: June 8, 2010 at 5:37 p.m.
    Sutton, I agree with your comments. Count me in among those who consider Bradley a quality player and a vital cog in the US midfield because of his presence, ability to man-mark and goal-line-to-goal-line effort. And Arturo, you win the Line Of The Day award.

  1. Mark Huber
    commented on: June 8, 2010 at 5:48 p.m.
    I like Edu in there with Torres, but Bradley wouldn't get all the flack he does if his last name was different (the temper doesn't help). I tell my non soccer friends that US soccer needs a reverse transition of what happened to the NBA. The NBA went from skilled players to athletes. US soccer needs to go from athletes to skiled players, and I think Edu and Torres are a great start. Clark and Bornstein should have been left at home for youth guys like mentioned above. I'd be very surprised (and elated) to see Torres against England. I think BB thinks he not physical enough, sadly. Anyone who watches SPL knows that Edu would be more than enough with Torres, but I think BB's blinders prevent this. It's a bummer that it's gonna take Clark getting burnt and not connecting passes to get Torres in there. I give him 60 minutes (assuming he starts) before he's pulled. And then of course Bob will put Benny in, not Torres.

  1. Christian Navarro
    commented on: June 8, 2010 at 6:07 p.m.
    Sutton Stern I have always liked MB, but your argument as far as "Red"cardo is flawed in the sense that you just mentioned that M. Edu has not proven anything internationally; therefore, I ask you the same about "Red"cardo. What has he done or proven other than your "he's done so much off the field" argument, if that is the case lets start a debate on the inclusion or exclusion of Brian Ching. He has done more than "Red"cardo as far as the national team! Your argument is weak, flawed and quite frankly that Sir, has made you lose credibility and make you look like a ninny!

  1. Sutton Stern
    commented on: June 8, 2010 at 6:36 p.m.
    Talkin' about internationals. Clark played in the Confed Cup and in the key 2009 qualifying matches. Has more than double the number of caps as Edu and many of those caps were in very important matches not just friendlies and early qualifiers. Not saying Clark is a superstar, just that he has quiet but qualities that have helped this team succeed in international competition. This and his experience winning big international games cannot be ignored. People get behind the likes of Torres and Edu partially because they don't like Clark. And I think Clark is much better than he gets credit for. If Edu has a great cup or Torres, I'll be thrilled, believe me. I like them both as players, but I would start with Clark and would expect him to make us very difficult to plat against. Possession statistics are close meaningless. Just ask Jose Mourinho and Inter Milan. The idea that we would increase our ability t possess the ball against the likes of Spain or Italy because we exchange for Edu or Torres for Clark is not credible. We clog the middle and counter by playing thru our outside Mids or Bradley and when it works it works well.

  1. James Froehlich
    commented on: June 8, 2010 at 7:38 p.m.
    Sutton--I'm going out on a limb here and say that at minimum you have a "C" license. If not you should have because your argument about Clark sounds right out of a US Soccer coaching manual. BTW, I don't consider that a compliment. First, I like MB but agree that he is definitely not a creative midfielder. He is probably the best we have as a defensive mid. Now, regarding Clark and his effectiveness off the ball. Despite your implications, I'm sure that most of the participants are quite aware of the value of movement off the ball but at the level of the USMNT, that quality better be a given not his primary qualification. Both you and Ridge have vastly overstated his contributions to the win versus Australia. I believe that the offensive success of that game was negligible at best. The Roos controlled by far the greater part of that game. We scored on a disastrous giveaway and on pitiful marking on the set piece. And I don't see how Clark contributed to the Gomez goal in stoppage time. The real offensive positives from that game are that Buddle and Gomez can finish if given the opportunity. At bottom, my real disagreement with your and Ridge's analysis is that it is based upon a belief in the a style of soccer that has stilted the development of skillful and creative players in the US ---- all XXX's and OOO's. I for one would rather have the US put it's most skillful and creative players out there and let the chips fall where they may---heresy---instead of following the most conservative and boring style with the hope that we might scratch our way out of the KO round.

  1. Christian Navarro
    commented on: June 8, 2010 at 9:18 p.m.
    James that was spoken like a true prophet! That is exactly what i was trying to say!

  1. Philippe Fontanelli
    commented on: June 8, 2010 at 9:36 p.m.
    Sutton I don't think you know what a football looks like please save us the pain and continue to play baseball. Although it is a great game but very different than what you call soccer. Mike Huber go take classes and learn how to play the beautiful game. While I don't profess to be a genius but I have played pro ball in Italy before I have emigrated to the US and teaching my kids to play accordingly. Read sometimes Paul Gardner's comments if nothing else. By the way it is not Arturo (for Spanish) you ignoramous it is Antonio (for Italian). And for the records Bradley had hard time fit in the his club team in Germany often he was left off from a mediocre team at best. Please read up.....because you are both not up to par with ther stories. And if not nepotism give us a good reason why is Bradley in the line up.But this what you want this is what you get, a WC with both Bradleys will be aquick exit. I only feel sorry for my kids born in the US, playing and believing in the USA, being jilted again.

  1. James Madison
    commented on: June 9, 2010 at 12:38 a.m.
    I have long been a fan of Clark and do not disagree with the assessment of his play in the Australia tuneup, but I believe Torres does everything Clark can do (except engage in misconduct), only better and more consistently.

  1. Christopher Osmond
    commented on: June 9, 2010 at 9:19 a.m.
    I am baffled that Torres did not get another chance after he settled the US midfield in the Turkey game. Of all the players that are best sorted to break high pressure when in possession, it is Torres. Why Bradley cannot see this is beyond me. If I was an opposing coach, I would tell my midfield to apply high pressure to Clark/Bradley because they will either cough it up, or play it backwards. Watch, you will see this is exactly what will happen this World Cup if they start.


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