Portland Timbers 2 defender Rennico Clarke played his first match of the season on June 25 against Saint Louis FC, after returning from an ACL injury that he suffered last August in his first season with the club. In this interview, Clarke talks about his return from injury, growing up in Jamaica, and his adjustment to life in Portland.
It must have been frustrating for you to sit out much of this season with injury. What was that experience like for you and how did it feel to finally get back on the field?
Rennico Clarke: “As you said, it was really frustrating. It was so hard trying to remain focused and keep a positive mentality, but I'm thankful for the guys that are here [who have been through ACL surgery] like Ben [Zemanski], and Diego [Valeri]. They encouraged me and they'd say, ‘You're going to get through it. You see that we're playing. You're going to do it.’ I hear my mom's voice every day just telling me: ‘Come on son, you can do it.’ It really helped a lot. It was just great getting back out there after such a long time. I have a lot to accomplish. I have a lot of people to prove wrong and I have my personal goals set too. So, it's just working hard trying to get there and [the debut] was just a major step trying to get back there. The work has just begun.”
How would you describe home?
Clarke: “My home is a little small town outside the capital of Jamaica, called St. Thomas. I grew up there my entire childhood and went to school there. It's a pretty small place, like farms and stuff, a lot of country food and stuff. I sometimes miss it, but we have to do what we have to do for a living. It's very fun being there, but this is work and we have to do what we have to do.”
When did you start playing soccer?
Clarke: “I played soccer my entire childhood days. But I wasn't into soccer until I was actually about 15, when I really noticed my true potential. Obviously, I played in elementary school; I started playing competitively in high school, but track and field was my sport. I liked cricket. Those were my two big sports. Soccer was just for me in my leisure time with my friends, but honestly, I really liked to run on the track. But I started noticing that things were getting hard. Guys were getting faster. My coach saw me one day just playing fun soccer and he was like, ‘Just come and try out.’ I made the team. I wasn't like super good at that time but I had the potential, he said, to be good. I just kept working on it and I fell in love with it. Started playing and moved on when I was 18 to play for my past club, Harbor View in Jamaica. I played really well there and the Jamaican National Team acknowledged that by calling me to the U-20s and U-21 squad. And then Portland on the other end acknowledged that and saw me and so now I'm here.”
You arrived here at 19. What was it like for you to come here to Portland alone at such a young age?
Clarke: “It was kind of scary. Mom was like, ‘No, my baby's gonna leave me!’ So we just said we have to do it; it's what I want to do. So she let me go. I talked to my agent and he's like, ‘It's going to be hard, but you have Alvas [Powell] there who can help you and show you around and show you how things are done.’ I think that was the biggest part of me coming here and being settled because of Alvas, because we grew up together as kids and we played against each other and he took me up in great hands; he showed me how things are done and in no time I was actually settled.”