Honefoss goalkeeper Steve Clark says that he is undeterred by his current role as a backup for the Norwegian club and believes his hard work will pay dividends soon.
Clark joined the Eliteserien squad prior to the start of the 2010 season and served as the backup before earning the starting position in the club's fourth match of the season.
After four successive starts, a quad injury forced Clark to the sideline for several weeks. Although recovered, the Michigan native has not been able to reclaim the starting spot but he is still upbeat about his long-term prospects at the club.
"Being the backup goalkeeper is not a situation I want to be in but I think I'm getting better and really there is not a lot more I can do about it than just go out and train hard every day," Clark recently told YA.
In search of more playing time, Clark did approach the club about a loan opportunity but was quickly rebuffed due to his value to the squad.
"A month ago I approached the club about doing a possible loan deal and they told me no way," Clark explained. "They said that they needed me in case [starting goalkeeper] Thomas [Solvoll] got hurt and that I was too valuable. It is a bummer that I can't see the field right now but it's nice that they see me as the future goalkeeper so it's a bit of a Catch-22 at the moment for me, but I think I think you have to stay positive when life deals you a bad hand."
Another American goalkeeper in Norway who finds himself in a similar situation is Sarpsborg's Colin Burns who remains the backup netminder for his 1. Division club.
Clark says that the veteran Burns reached out to him to offer encouragement and support of which he is very appreciative.
"It's been frustrating this season but one guy who has helped me is Colin Burns," Clark said of the former Ljungskile man. "He's been a good mentor since he's going through a similar situation at Sarpsborg so he has helped me a lot. We just talked last week and have made plans to meet up in Oslo soon."
While his relationship with Burns has become friendly, Clark says working along side Solvoll has been a learning experience even as both players vie for the same starting spot.
"My relationship with Thomas is a business relationship," Clark said of the current starter. "I really can't be mad at him since it was a coach's decision. Our goalkeepers coach is a nice guy and he's been fair, I just don't agree with the decision, but he hears me out. I'm really just focusing on me and the long-term process so it doesn't make sense or help me to get all worked up about not starting the very next game.
"I'll be better for staying here. I know I can play here and I can play in this league. I've proved that by my play earlier in the season so I won't be giving up."
With the Eliteserien season nearing its home stretch, any match Honefoss plays has repercussions in the race to avoid relegation.
The club currently sits in 14th position with 20 points which would send them into a playoff with the third place team from the 1. Division. However last year's league runners-up Molde are level on points with Honefoss while Brann are just two points above in 12th.
Clark feels that in the coming weeks with bigger teams like Valerenga, undefeated Rosenborg and Hunter Freeman and Clay Goodson's Start coming to town, securing points on their home turf will be key to their survival in the Eliteserien.
"Our home games will be key," he explained. "We have some big home matches coming up and I think we are tough to play against at home."
The former Charleston Battery man added that it has been eye-opening to be involved in a fight to avoid relegation, something he had never experienced while playing back in the US.
"I'm learning a lot from the relegation experience," elaborated Clark. "Any time you play, it matters a whole lot. Nobody on this team wants to go back to playing in the 1. Division. You can especially tell when we play another team that is battling relegation like when we played Kongsvinger. There is an extra edge and tension in the air. You can feel it from the crowd, the town and the coach. It spills into training making for a pretty tense week.
"This is not to say that games when I played in college or with the [PDL] Michigan Bucks or in Charleston didn't matter, but since there is no relegation system it makes a difference. Here you have that so games take on a new meaning."
As for off the field, the former Oakland University standout says the adjustment to life in a small Norwegian town has been made easier through the lack of a language barrier, friendly teammates and establishing a routine common to professional soccer players.
"It's been a pretty smooth adjustment and it helps that everyone here speaks in English and my teammates are all good guys and I've become friends with them," he concluded. "I've just had to get used to making the transition to living in a smaller town where at 5pm on a Wednesday everything is closed and you are bored! But that's just part of life here. You have your routine of waking up, eating, going to training and so on. You just got to love your routine if you are going to play professionally."
Clark and Honefoss return to action on Sunday when the host Mikkel Diskerud and Stabaek.