February 2010

Ricardo Clark: The Upside Of Injury

There’s been plenty to talk about regarding USMNT midfielders this week, and unsurprisingly, not all of it’s been good. Neither of the former Houston Dynamos have found their first couple weeks across the pond particularly easy. Stuart Holden suffered a thigh injury almost immediately after starting training with new club Bolton, but manager Owen Coyle says the exciting young midfielder is back on the training pitch. He’ll have to impress in practice and hope to supplant a Bolton mainstay not named Lee Chung-Yong, because the Blue Dragon is dominating the right side for the club and he’s not going anywhere.

Over in Germany, Ricardo Clark also suffered an injury almost immediately after joining his new club. The physical defensive mid pulled a calf muscle and will miss up to a month before even having the chance to debut for Frankfurt. This comes after the team’s manager said Clark would take at least three weeks to get into game shape upon arriving at the club. Does this mean he’ll have another three weeks tacked onto his injury rehab time? We hope not.

With these latest two injuries the American training table seems to be getting awful crowded just five months out from the World Cup. Granted, many of the injuries are very short term, but running down the list is a bit scary and absolutely no fun. So here we go: Charlie Davies, Oguchi Onyewu, Clint Dempsey, Ricardo Clark, Stuart Holden, DeMarcus Beasley, Steven Cherundolo.

That’s a lot of dudes! A lot of important dudes. Every single one of them could be back for South Africa and I could be sitting here sweating in this coffee shop for nothing (other than confusing the baristas, of course), but in sports I won’t assume a player healthy until I see it.

But unlike most of the other injuries, the Ricardo Clark calf pull may actually have an upside to it. Now hear me out; I love Ricardo as much as the next guy, but assuming he comes back healthy this may just be an opportunity for Yanks coach Bob Bradley (affectionately known as Bobbo reasonably often on this site) to try some new things in the central midfield. Clark and Michael Bradley have formed a nice partnership as the two center mids, with one hanging back and one bombing forward on offense in any given attack. On D they sit back and play hard-nosed card-heavy defense. And the card-heavy thing is no indictment, some of the best defensive midfielders in the world play that same style (see Gattuso, Mascherano, Parker… had to get my West Ham boy in there). Now one of our guys needs to learn how to rein it in when he’s carrying a yellow, I’ll let you figure out which one.  But I’ll give you hint: he’s white… and his Dad coaches the team… and his last name rhymes with “sadly.” I digress.

Clark and MB90 have formed a solid midfield partnership, but the complaints of my Yanks Are Coming compatriots Raf and Puck are not at all unwarranted.

Raf: Michael Bradley never comes out of the game, ever! (hence the nickname MB90) Unless he gets red carded of course.

Puck: The U.S. will not go far in any international competition if they think they can just play two defensive midfielders (which Clark and Bradley are as far as their offensive creativity goes) in the center of the field.

Ricardo Clark being out for around a month might just force the defensive-minded Bobbo to play different combinations in the central midfield. His options seemingly provide a win-win situation for us here at Yanks. The coach can either run Bradley out alongside a guy like Feilhaber or Kljestan and embrace the offensive/defensive dichotomy that a lot of managers are going with here in 2010, or he can stay defensive and trot out Maurice Edu, nothing less than a cult hero around the Yanks home office. If it was up to us Mo Edu would have his own entrance music and come out with the WWE Intercontinental Championship belt around his waist.

So there’s your possible upside of the Clark injury. It remains to be seen whether this new combo will see the light of day for one or two games though. The February training camp roster doesn’t include anything close to the true starting XI, but European-based Yanks could be called in a few days prior to the El Salvador match. But I wouldn’t bank on it. Expect to get one ninety minute glimpse at whatever new combination Bob Bradley decides to employ when the Yanks take on the Netherlands on March 3.

In summation, here’s how I’m rooting. Yes Feilhaber/Kljestan! Yes Edu! No 17th minute red card! No Mastroeni! Go Yanks!

Jon Levy is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at jon@yanksarecoming.com

Jon Levy