American Exports: Relegation scramble familiar territory for Norwegian standout GK Steve Clark
AMSTERDAM – Another year in Norway, another desperate scramble for points down the stretch for Hønefoss netminder Steve Clark.
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, life goes on.
Behind renewed form from the reigning Tippeligaen Goalkeeper of the Year, Hønefoss are starting to look a lot like the team that made a great escape last season. Even though they stand five points short of the safety zone and one shy of the survival playoff spot with four games to play, Clark almost feels right in his comfort zone.
"My first year, we had the promotion race," Clark told MLSsoccer.com by phone from Hønefoss before knocking Rosenborg off the league summit with nine saves in a scoreless Sunday draw. "In the second, we had a relegation battle, and now here we are again. It's become normal when October comes around."
Clark reports it's not just him staying cool in the heat of a relegation race. His teammates also feel capable of staying up the second time around this track.
"I think everyone is feeling good," he said. "We're confident, even with what we've been through this season."
The strife he speaks of started with the loss of their veteran center back combo, which – combined with the team's struggling attack – heaped extra pressure on Clark to play savior. Both he and club suffered quite a bit through the middle of this campaign, which included six defeats in a nine-game winless streak.
The tough times may have sunk some spirits around town, but not Clark's. Even after one of a couple summer gaffes, his head stayed high.
"There was a week in the summer when I gave up 11 goals," he recalled, referring to consecutive drubbings from Strømsgodset and Aalesund FK. "You can either lose confidence or you can learn from it. As a goalkeeper, you have to learn to be intrinsically self-confident.
"This year, more than any in my career, I've learned and learned. Anything I was deficient at, I got punished this year. But I've also been developing at a rapid rate."
Despite last season's accolades and progress made since then, the 27-year-old says he's yet to have contact with the US national team staff.
"Not anything that I'm aware of," said Clark. "But they have a great [goaltender] pool. The only way I can support the national team from the outside looking in is to play well. Until that [call] comes, I'm just going to be busting my butt."
Hønefoss, who host champs Molde FK this weekend, will need Clark's efforts. He's been so focused on keeping the team in the top flight, he's barely paid any mind to interest from winter browsers in America and Europe.
"Right now, everything's open," said Clark, who runs out of contract at the end of the year. "Yes, MLS is on the table, but so is Hønefoss. If we were in a different situation and able to cruise to the end of the season, maybe I could think about it. But we're trying to win games."