Ricardo Clark was a key contributor in the U.S. national team's surprising run to the Confederations Cup final last summer, and while he looks certain to return to South Africa for the World Cup, his place in the starting eleven is anything but guaranteed.
Clark enters the U.S. pre-World Cup camp battling with a number of other players for the spot next to Michael Bradley at central midfield. Players like Jose Francisco Torres, Benny Feilhaber, Sacha Kljestan and Maurice Edu all pose a threat to the position, but Clark is prepared for the competition.
"I'm used to it. I've been doing this since I was eight years old," said Clark. "Just got to do your thing on the field and hopefully it works out for you."
Persevering is a trait Clark has shown is one of his strengths over recent years. After initially being omitted from the roster for World Cup qualifiers and the Confederations Cup, the former Houston Dynamo player found his way onto the team after Edu suffered a late injury with Rangers FC. Clark took advantage of the opportunity, earning a starting role in the majority of the summer matches, including the historic 2-0 victory over Spain in the Confederations Cup semifinals.
Forcing his way into the starting lineup is also something Clark accomplished at the club level. After leaving MLS as a free agent last winter, Clark signed with German Bundesliga club Eintracht Frankfurt. He looked poised to break into the starting eleven shortly after arriving, but like many Americans this year, Clark suffered an injury - a calf strain that delayed his European debut.
"It was frustrating, especially going into a new team without knowing what the future would hold," Clark said. "I only had a six-month contract so if I played well the team would extend my contract. Thankfully, I grinded it out and stayed positive and in the end it worked out."
After recovering from the calf strain, Clark showed enough in training to warrant three consecutive starts for Eintracht to close out its season. His performances in those matches drew positive reviews, and they earned him a three-year extension with the club, an extension Clark signed due to wanting to continue to test himself in a better league with a more professionalism atmosphere.
"I think it's just the overall mentality. It's a very rigorous mentality," said Clark. "Their trainings are very, very strict in their play on and off the field. It's just a more professional environment than MLS."
That environment is what Clark hopes will help him regain the starting role he flourished in for the United States last summer.
"I feel ready, I have the mentality that I'm always going to be ready," said Clark. "I played the last three games of the season, played full 90 minutes and felt fit so I think I'll be good for this camp."