COLUMBUS, Ohio – When the Columbus Crew traded with Seattle for the rights to goalkeeper Steve Clark in the offseason, there was no introductory press conference, no talk of international duty and no Júlio César-esque celebration of his arrival.
Head coach Gregg Berhalter knew what he was getting with the 'keeper who went straight from the USL Premier Development League's Michigan Bucks to Norway's Hønefoss BK, but the rest of the MLS world was a bit in the dark. And that's just how Clark likes it.
“I had a lot of press in Norway and I kind of backed off a lot of it,” Clark told MLSsoccer.com. “I don't get involved in social media too much anymore. I just walk my dog, love my fiancé, and try to play and enjoy the small things ... For me, I don't need to be in the papers.”
But Clark has already put his stamp on the season for the Crew, making one crucial save after another. And with his stellar play, it's getting more and more difficult to avoid talking about him. Berhalter, for one, isn't surprised.
“That's what we saw in the tape; we saw that he was constantly making saves that no one expected him to make,” he told media after Wednesday's training session. “So we knew he could do that, and some of the feedback from his coaching staff in Norway was exactly the same. He's very good one-on-one, very agile and can come up with a big save.”
Clark's ability to deny forwards of goals from one-on-one opportunities has been his trademark this season, and his play has earned him multiple MLS Save of the Week nominations, including two this week. The 'keeper says his technique has been years in the making, and while his strategy of throwing his limbs out at the same time may make those saves seem like luck, it's far from it.
“It's something I've worked on a long time, basically, my four years in Norway I was working on my technique with that,” Clark said. “It's still a work in progress. It's obviously a little unique to what some people are used to with the big sprawl save. But it's about timing, and if they want to come one-on-one, we have a decent chance. And I hope that the more I save – and I've got a couple this year, maybe more than a couple – it gives us confidence.”
The Michigan native says he likes being able to contribute with his footwork and skill on the ball in the possession-oriented Crew strategy, and his ability to shut down a breakaway comes in handy when Columbus are frequently caught on the counter.
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“He reads the game really well,” Berhalter said. “When you look at the play when he came out in the corner of the penalty box and made a tackle on their forward, it was a great play... he has very good reflexes, and he's complementing our play nicely.”
Clark doesn't despise the spotlight, but he's not searching for it either. And, like his play, the Crew netminder said it's important to “stay level.”
“Perhaps someone else wishes they would be bothered [by the media],” he said. “And for me, I'm okay with whatever comes. The reason you can't get too wrapped up is, what happens when you don't make the save? I'm walking in and I'm not getting interviews and I'm supposed to be bummed out? You just take what comes.”