HOUSTON – Imagine going through a normal day with fractured ribs. The pain from simply breathing or walking down the street can be intense.
Now imagine willingly putting yourself through the grinder that is an MLS game.
That’s what Ricardo Clark did Saturday for the short-handed Houston Dynamo. Clark sat out training all week with just such an injury, until Friday when he decided to “at least give it a try” the day before Houston played host to the Colorado Rapids. Thirty-two hours later, Clark was covering the field and in the middle of the action in a physical, scoreless draw at BBVA Compass Stadium.
“I’ve got to say, I don’t know too many that could’ve endured the pain he did to play,” Dynamo head coach Owen Coyle told the media. “We actually shaped up [Friday] with Ricardo not in the team. Even Friday he came out and was barely walking and tried to get about the game. He said after he was willing to try it. No painkillers, no nothing. Just gritting his teeth. That’s just the man he is.”
Clark fractured his ribs in the first half a 1-1 draw with the L.A. Galaxy the week before. The midfielder originally thought it was a recurrence of an abdomen injury he played through in 2014 before an MRI revealed its true nature.
His response showed true grit: He said it would be hard to worsen the injury, so it was all about managing pain.
“Everything you do, when you breathe, when you shout, get hit and lateral movements was what killed me the most,” Clark told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s just a nagging injury and a painful injury. It’s one of those injuries no player looks forward to having, but it’s one you’ve just got to play through.”
Coyle said he was surprised when Clark tried to talk him into training Friday with an eye on Saturday’s game.
“He came on the field [Friday], and I thought he was just going to do a little jog,” Coyle said.
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Not convinced of Clark’s availability, Coyle played him against his projected starters during the session. Clark said following the scrimmage that he’d be willing to play in the game the following day.
“I told him he’d have to come in [Saturday] early, which he did… and went through a rigorous fitness test,” Coyle said. “I think [director of sports performance] Paul Caffrey whacked him a couple of times as well because we had to make sure.”
Caffrey did “whack” Clark several times with a pad, more likely to be seen on an American football field, to make sure he could make it through the game.
“They have to do that because I didn’t really have too much training to test that,” Clark said. “That’s just a part of the fitness test, and I was able to make it out of it.”
And Clark played a big role for the Dynamo in the game.
With four starters away on national-team duty, the Dynamo needed all hands on deck. He played 68 minutes before being lifted, something he wasn’t on board with according to Coyle.
With the club getting their full complement back for Saturday’s away matchup with the Seattle Sounders (10 pm ET; MLS LIVE), Clark’s taking it easy early this week but has his eyes on suiting up again.
“As you can imagine on Monday morning, he was in a lot of pain again. He’s eased off a little today,” Coyle said. “I’ve got no doubts that come Thursday afternoon or Friday morning he’s going to be saying, ‘I’m ready to go for you.’ It’s difficult to resist those players because they want to go out there and play, and I love that type of character.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.