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Humble Hero

With one powerful swing of his right leg, midfielder Ricardo Clark put the U.S. National Team on the brink of qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. His goal on Matchday 8 of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying at Trinidad & Tobago on Sept. 9, 2009 gave the USA a 1-0 victory and a precious three points on the road. As the U.S. team approaches its next and final hurdles to South Africa, Clark looked back on his second career national team goal.

It might not have been the “Shot heard ‘round the world,” a.k.a. Paul Caligiuri’s legendary strike at Trinidad & Tobago in 1989 that earned the USA its first World Cup berth in 40 years, but Ricardo Clark’s goal may turn out to be just as important.

In the 62nd minute of a tense 0-0 game at Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port-of-Spain, Clark ran onto a square pass from Landon Donovan at the top of the penalty area and ripped a right-footed inside-out swerving shot that split two T&T defenders before sailing into the upper right corner of the net.

“The way I hit it, and I felt like I hit it pretty well, it makes the ball move,” he said of the blast. “So long as I hit it on target, it’s going to be difficult for the goalkeeper to handle.”

It was beautiful finish for a player known more for his ball-winning and ability to cover acres of ground in the midfield. They say that in order for your maestros to play the piano (see: Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore), someone has to carry it to the stage. One of those players is Clark.

His soft spoken and humble manner off the field belies a warrior mentality between the lines, and although he certainly enjoyed stepping into the world of a goal scorer, Clark is more than content to play his role.

“At the end of the day, if I’m part of the squad, and I do whatever I can do to help the squad win, I felt like I’ve done my job,” said the 26-year-old Clark who has played 25 times for the USA. “If the team gets the win, I’ll take that over the glory.”

Still, the goal in Trinidad was extra special for Clark, whose father is from Guyana, but grew up in Trinidad -- and in Port-of-Spain specifically -- before he immigrated to New York in the late 1970s. His dad was in the stands to see what was a special goal in more ways than one.

“It was a great experience,” said Clark of his goal’s dual meaning. “I was happy I could come through for the team at that moment in time. It was a big goal and I’m glad I could help the team get points in the qualifying round, but it was great to score that goal in my dad’s hometown and his home country. He was there watching me and it was an unbelievable moment because he has been a big part of my life and my career.”

While we don’t know when that next goal will come from Clark, for sure he’s going to keep looking for it.

“Being a central midfielder, I’m in those positions all the time,” he said. “I get those opportunities a lot of with my club team and it’s the same here. I’m always looking for that ball at the top of the box and I’m always looking to shoot it. [The goal in T & T] was just one of those instances and thankfully it worked out for me.”

The week after the game Clark returned to his club team and was sitting in the pre-game meeting with Houston Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear. Usually Kinnear will show the team some highlights of the past week’s game, including the goals, but as the Dynamo hadn’t found the net in its previous match, instead Kinnear showed Clark’s score, much to the delight of his MLS teammates.

Should all go well for the USA in the next two World Cup qualifying matches, it’s a goal that may be replayed over and over in the years to come.