Colin Clark was barely a teenager when Claudio Lopez scored for Argentina in a World Cup quarterfinal against Holland in 1998. Now, the two are taking corner kicks together.
But while Lopez banged curling balls following practice this week with a smile, Clark was decidedly more subdued. Maybe it’s because Clark – a former invitee to the AC Milan system as a teenager from Fort Collins, Colo. – has his mind on other things, namely returning to the Rapids fold after a serious knee injury wrecked his promising 2009 campaign.
Clark sizzled for most of last season on the left wing for the Rapids, notching five assists and helping keep the club in the playoff hunt. He also made his USMNT debut at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, logging 76 minutes against Haiti in the Americans’ 2-2 draw on July 11 at Gillette Stadium.
But roughly a month later his season was done, felled by an ACL tear suffered during a harmless mid-week practice. Now Clark is battling for his spot on the left flank once again, trying to erase a sour start to this season when he lost his starting spot and perhaps struggled to regain the form that made him a burgeoning star last season.
“I have always felt you reward players that are playing well and that’s why I’ve been out of the line-up,” Clark said. “It’s just the way it goes. It’s pushed me to get back and work harder and get sharper.”
That means that Clark is typically the last man off the training pitch at practice these days, working with assistant coach and confidant Steve Guppy to earn his spot back.
“I don’t think Colin’s stock ever went down,” Rapids coach Gary Smith said. “I was mindful he had had a long spell out and I felt he needed more time about the ball to maybe feel more comfortable.”
Clark’s strengths are his ability to cross dangerously into the penalty area and take on defenders with dazzling speed, areas that he felt had been letting him down recently. One cross barely two minutes after coming on against LA right onto Conor Casey’s feet showed he may be getting his form back.
“There were just times when I would give the ball away cheaply or deliveries into the box weren’t as good as they should be,” he said. “Bits and pieces are coming together.”
With Wells Thompson, Clark, a recovering Jamie Smith, Mehdi Ballouchy and Omar Cummings all being tried in wide positions this season, Smith knows he has options. But there is no doubt that a fit and in-form Clark is vital to the Rapids’ progression. Expect to see him pacing up and down the left flank on Saturday when Colorado kicks off against D.C. United at RFK Stadium.