When it comes to Bundesliga influence among United States players competing in the Copa America, there are few as qualified to speak on the matter as Ricardo Clark.
Currently playing with Houston Dynamo of MLS, Clark scored at the 2007 edition of the tournament for the US against Paraguay and is known to German fans from his spell playing for Eintracht Frankfurt between 2010 and 2012. Ahead of the clash between Jürgen Klinsmann’s side and Ecuador in the first quarter-final of this summer's Copa America Centenario, Clark took the time to speak with bundesliga.com about the sport in his home country and its growing connection to the German game.
An ideal environment for youngsters
With standout performances by Hamburger SV newcomer Bobby Wood and Hertha Berlin’s John Anthony Brooks, there is mounting evidence that the Bundesliga is having a positive influence on the United States men’s national team, and Clark thinks the reason is fairly straightforward.
“I think the Bundesliga is, no doubt, one of the top leagues in Europe, if not the top. I think a lot of that is due to the approach that Germans have taken in the game of football,” explained Clark. “The training is very rigorous there. I don’t think any league in the world has it as a norm to train as much as they do. It makes you very fit and very sharp in your football. Especially for young players, that’s really important if they want to further their development.”
That development appeared to be lacking in the USA’s tournament-opening 2-0 loss to Colombia, but victories over Costa Rica (4-0) and Paraguay (1-0) have unexpectedly left the USA top of Group A. They are now just one more win away from equalling their deepest-ever Copa America run, a 1995 fourth-place finish.
“I think being home helped them rebound from Colombia loss, but to be fair I think the US played pretty good in the Colombia game,” said Clark. “Playing at home always helps. Just playing on home soil and being in a familiar environment where it’s relatively supportive gives them motivation.”
'America has embraced soccer'
Clark likes to consider not only the short-term benefits of the tournament’s location for the national team, though. He believes the hosting of the Copa America will help continue the inroads the world’s game has made into the sporting hearts of the United States, which had long resisted the allure of 'the beautiful game'.
“I think it’s awesome for the soccer community here in the US, to keep growing the sport. I think over the past couple of years, it’s really taken off,” enthused Clark. “American culture has really started to embrace soccer.”
Eintracht in the the heart
With the MLS currently on hiatus to allow the Copa America to have the US football stage all to itself, Clark has had plenty of time to keep tabs on the tournament’s progress. But even when he’s busy working toward a third MLS Cup in a Houston Dynamo uniform, he still likes to check in with his old club Eintracht, who avoided relegation to Bundesliga 2 via the play-offs this season.
“I try to catch games when I can. Obviously, I follow Frankfurt more than other teams,” said the 33-year-old. “I'm not as in tune with it as when I was there, but I keep up on it here and there.”
Randall Hauk reporting from Houston