The 18-year-old midfielder came off the bench to assist Fabio’s 91st-minute winner, deftly nodding a looping Patryk Klimala cross back across goal. It was a moment of patience and quality from the youngster, who’s heading to RB Leipzig where former RBNY coach Jesse Marsch is at the helm.
Clark subbed on in the 67th minute for his first appearance since an Oct. 9 game against Inter Miami CF, reflecting how he’s fallen from first-choice under head coach Gerhard Struber. The Minnesota native hasn’t started a game since a Sept. 11 draw against D.C. United, having been largely stuck on the periphery.
Naturally, he wants a greater role.
“I was absolutely pissed off because there was speculation that maybe I was going to start and I didn’t get the start at the end of the day,” Clark said. “It’s kind of just all built up in the last month, so I didn’t bring negative energy, I put in a positive energy and just tried to help the team any way I can.”
The result moved RBNY into an Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs spot (seventh place) in the Eastern Conference, helping their quest to book a 12th straight postseason trip. It also gave Clark four goals and four assists on the year through 22 games (15 starts), with his first goal contribution in three months.
Those figures would likely be loftier if Clark hadn’t undergone an appendectomy this past June, an operation that left him off the US men’s national team’s roster for the Concacaf Gold Cup. It also impacted his progress at RBNY and left him facing a rare adverse moment in his burgeoning young career.
“It’s never easy getting a surgery in the middle of the season and trying to get back for fitness in the middle of the season and trying to get back to the speed of play,” Clark said. “So, it’s never easy, it’s taken a bit longer than I wanted it to.
“Obviously, it’s not easy before this game playing 81 minutes in a month’s time, which isn’t ideal, but it’s part of the game, we learn from it. It just goes to show you that you have to work through anything that’s hard in life in general because like today, it’s rewarding. I’ve been putting my head down, doing the extra work on the side, working my tail off in training and this is the reward.”
Asked about Clark postgame, Struber’s own remarks were framed through a patient lens. The Austrian manager is charged with developing the USMNT prospect, and recognizes the meteoric rise the talent's been on since joining their MLS side in October 2020.
“I think I expect a lot of Caden, and from the other side, Caden is a very young player,” Struber said. “I think I can calculate right now very good what I can expect, and I think we have to be very fair with him. He's a big talent with outstanding abilities.
“But on the same side, I think right now is to be humbled, to be ready for the next step, and I think me and my coaching team, we will help him; that he is in the end over the long run, the right player for the next big step.”
That next step is at a UEFA Champions League-level club, an exciting opportunity for a player who placed No. 8 on this year’s 22 Under 22 presented by BODYARMOR list. Before then, Clark could play an essential role in their postseason aspirations.
“Caden, he showed me in the training and in the last few weeks more and more, he's more ready to come back and today he showed me that he helped the team in a very good direction,” Struber said. “It's not only the assist that was very important for us. Also, I can remember one special pass from him with a big chance in the end.”