D.C. United had been hinting that the close of the transfer window might not mean the close of business for them, and those hints appear to be reality today. Steve Goff of the Washington Post is reporting that the Black-and-Red have signed American goalkeeper Steve Clark, currently a free agent after spending the 2017 season with AC Horsens of the Danish top flight.
Sources have confirmed to Black and Red United that the deal is done and an announcement is imminent. He also trained with the club today.
Clark, 31, is best known among MLS fans for his three seasons with the Columbus Crew. Clark started 100 regular season games for the Crew during that time, and 7 playoff matches to boot. Unfortunately for Clark, the last of those playoff appearances saw him make one of the all-time great MLS Cup errors.
However, Clark was also known for being an all-around solid goalkeeper in Columbus, whose tactical preference for playing out of the back perhaps tested Clark’s skill on the ball more than was necessary. With United less wedded to hoarding possession, it seems safe to presume that Clark would be less likely to have a giveaway like the one that set Portland on their way to a championship. Columbus made the playoffs in Clark’s first two seasons, and he was in the running for the 2014 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award (he finished third, losing to United’s Bill Hamid).
Aside from his time with the Crew, Clark has spent nearly all of his professional career in Scandinavia. After signing with the Charleston Battery out of college, Clark pursued deals abroad, eventually landing a deal in 2010 with Norwegian club Hønefoss BK by cold-calling them and arranging a trial. Clark took over the starting job that year, and Hønefoss were promoted to the top flight at the end of the season. In 2012, he was named to the Tippeligaen Best 11.
After leaving Columbus, who declined his option at the end of the 2016 season, Clark went back to Europe on a short-term deal with Danish Superliga club AC Horsens. Despite arriving mid-season, Clark started 17 games, helping Horsens avoid relegation in Denmark’s wildly convoluted system that sends the bottom half of the league into a long-running relegation playoff. However, Clark’s deal ran for just six months, and he opted to leave the club as a free agent in June.
For United, in the near term Clark will likely be the top back-up for Hamid. He has far more experience than Travis Worra or rookie Eric Klenofsky, and we may see one or both of those players going out on loan so they can continue to hone their craft. Due to Hamid being away for the Gold Cup and possibly the presence of Matt Turner in Richmond, Klenofsky has gotten just 90 minutes of actual competitive play in the pro ranks, which came back in early April. Worra, meanwhile, looked short of confidence in his five starts (all coming in July).
The more interesting wrinkle is long-term, though. Hamid is out of contract at the end of the season, and while United has mentioned ongoing talks more than once, the fact remains that he could leave for European suitors for free this offseason. United may well be acquiring Clark as an insurance plan in case that comes to pass. Clark’s past indicates that he would fit in somewhere in the middle tier of MLS starting goalkeepers, meaning that United would not have to commit to a panic-buy if Hamid did opt to head abroad this winter.
If, however, they sign Hamid to an extension, they have Clark as a back-up who will probably see a fair share of minutes. Hamid’s participation in the Gold Cup indicates that Bruce Arena rates him more highly than Jurgen Klinsmann did, and that means more potential USMNT call-ups. Furthermore, Hamid’s injury history has meant a large handful of starts for his back-ups over the years.
Update: D.C. United has made the signing official.