WASHINGTON – Never be the guy who replaces the local hero. Unless, maybe, you’re goalkeeper Steve Clark.
After a short cameo toward the end of the 2017 season, the 31-year-old Clark appears to be D.C. United’s most likely successor for Bill Hamid, who signed with Danish club FC Midtjylland following the end of the MLS season.
And despite the pressure comes with following the footsteps of someone who left a legacy as D.C.’s first Homegrown Player and one of the league’s best goalkeepers, Clark seems almost excited by the size of the metaphorical shoes he may have to fill.
“Bill should get his due from the D.C. fans,” Clark told MLSsoccer.com last month. “But I can’t reiterate it enough: fans want success. Once they see that, they look to cheer for it.
“The fans have already taken to me in a way. They kind of can see my passion, the way that I play the game. And fans love that passion.”
Clark is by no means guaranteed a starting spot in 2018. Head coach Ben Olsen has repeatedly stated D.C.’s intention to acquire another goalkeeper this winter to compete for the starting role.
“We’re going to try to amass as many good players as possible,” Olsen said in his season-ending comments to the media in October. “And that includes the goalkeeper spot.”
As of Dec. 1, Clark and D.C. were still working on finalizing a contract extension, according to a team statement.
But Clark is a serious enough contender that Olsen inserted him for the last five games of 2017, including the emotional send-off to RFK Stadium on Oct. 22.
He opened his five-game run with a 4-0 shutout victory over San Jose. He finished the year 1-3-1 with 11 goals allowed, but played better than those statistics suggested for what was a last-place team.
“You can see my ability to make the big save and keep us in games – I was able to do that a few times,” Clark said. “I aim to win every game that I start, so I’m certainly not happy when we were losing games in that stretch. But I think you see the places where I’m going to keep D.C. in the game.”
No matter how well Clark assimilates, there’s no doubt D.C. will feel the loss of Hamid, the club’s most recognizable face by the end of his eight-year tenure.
“Obviously losing Bill is a big hit,” D.C. defender Steve Birnbaum said. “He came up with big saves throughout my four years. I can’t count them on one hand.… It’s tough to lose him. But you know, I think it’s an opportunity for someone else to come up and step up.”
Clark gives D.C. some of the worldly experience Hamid departed in search of. The veteran spent four years early in his career in Norway, played for Columbus Crew SC from 2014-2016 then returned to Scandinavia to join Danish club AC Horsens in January before signing with D.C. in August.
“He was a personality here, for the most part good. But Bill was also a handful,” Olsen said. “With Bill leaving, there is a huge void for others to step into. And I’m looking forward to seeing who takes that. Because at this point, the group itself in the second half of the year was a good group, it was a good mentality, it was young, it was hungry. But there wasn’t a lot of real, experienced leaders that have been around the block.”