Postcard from Europe: Goodson just warming up
AMSTERDAM – Though only in town a few short months, Brøndby defender Clarence Goodson would already insist he found the perfect landing spot as a winter free agent.
The 28-year-old ran out his contract with Norwegian side IK Start, thanked the club for three fun seasons and went searching for the next challenge. With 10-time SAS Liga champs Brøndby, Goodson finds himself taking on fresh testing tasks nearly every week.
"It's certainly a level up [from Norway]," Goodson told MLSsoccer.com by phone from the tiny town just west of Copenhagen. "Denmark is certainly the top league in Scandinavia."
His new terrain doesn't just provide more quality opponents, but ones more cultured in the game.
"The Danish players like to kick the ball around more, it's a bit more about possession," said Goodson. "In Norway, it was more up and down the field, [often] lump it up to the big forward. Here, they like to find the penetrating pass."
And in the "here" that is Brøndby, they like to win soccer games. The stadium holds 29,000 people, the city contains only about 4,000 more.
"Brøndby is the most supported club in Scandinavia," Goodson said. "Copenhagen's had a lot of success, but Brøndby is still the biggest in terms of fans."
The official fan club, Brøndby Support, has more than 12,000 members. They bring drums, costumes, a choral singing attitude – and, on occasion, even the odd fisticuffs – wherever they go.
"It's great having that support, at home or away," said Goodson. "These fans travel really well. Sometimes, they outnumber the home fans."
This week, the city is swept up in derby fever. Already crowned champions for the season, archrivals FC Copenhagen will invade for the only time this term on Sunday.
"Basically since the last game, the focus has turned to Copenhagen," reports Goodson. "It's the talk of the town. It's one of those things that if we beat Copenhagen and lost to everybody else, there would still be a lot of satisfaction."
The hosts will be putting a peculiar streak to the test against FCK: Brøndby have not allowed a goal in Goodson's last 295 minutes of play.
"Hopefully, that won't change," said the Virginia native. "Some of the teams we've played, I can't say they were the best attacking teams, but we have been strong. This weekend will be the real test. If we can put a zero up against these guys, then we'll really have something to be proud about."
What's more, it will keep their hopes of overtaking second-place Odense BK for a Champions League invite. Brøndby are four points and one goal in differential short of the all-important league silver medal.
It's been five years since "the lads from the western outskirts" won the league crown and as many since they've reached Champions League qualification. Still, they've made it there half of the last 14 seasons and haven't missed Europe altogether since 1993.
This is the start of Goodson's first chase for UEFA glory, but he says there's no need for any tutelage from the regulars.
"You don't have to tell anybody about the prestige of being in the Champions League, or even the Europa League," he said. "Those are things that are expected at Brøndby. We've let some points slip away this spring and we have nobody to blame but ourselves. We're just going to have to go out there and try to get five wins and put as much pressure on OB as we possibly can."
It has not been all roses since Goodson arrived, however. There was an early speed bump: He was injured in his first SAS Liga game for the club and missed a month. It ended up just another challenge to tackle.
"It was unfortunate," he admitted. "But I've been concentrating on getting my form and I'm happy with the way I've been playing."
The American returned with one mid-April sub appearance and a week later, he was in the lineup wearing the armband against Esbjerg.
"For me, it was an honor," said Goodson, who filled in as skipper a few times during his three seasons with FC Dallas. "Our captain wasn't playing and the second captain was injured. We had the pregame talk, the coach told me, I said, ‘OK,’ we went out and did business. I tried to lead the team best I could and we got the result, so I was happy with that."
Captain Goodson, who notched 10 goals in 69 league games with Start, grabbed the winner that day by nodding home the first in a 3-0 walk with a trademark restart header.
"You always have one or two set plays to run," he said, explaining the art. "It's one of those things you go over the day before the game. I just try to put myself in a good position and get a good, hard run at goal."
With eyes forward to the stretch drive, Goodson says it's nearly impossible for him to ignore the fact that the CONCACAF Gold Cup is fast approaching once again. He his hopeful success at Brøndby translates into a call from US coach Bob Bradley.
"I always say the way to the national team is through your club team," he offered. "Of course, all US players are looking forward to [the Gold Cup]. There's that pressure of earning a Confederations Cup berth and it's something we put a high priority on, to get that dry run before World Cup."
Naturally, there's also that other small matter confronting Goodson, the cool-headed adventurer: avoiding a repeat of 2009. It may have been a “B” squad Bradley fielded for that Gold Cup, but Goodson was an integral member, and went the full 90 in the final match in which Mexico shellacked the US 5-0. That’s not something he’s eager to repeat next month.
"Oh, no," he declared calmly, sensing another big test. "We can't let that happen again."