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David Beckham is one of the best soccer players in the world.
To Darren Clark, a 37-year-old assistant referee from Kamloops, the English footballing superstar was just No. 23 in white at the MLS Cup on Saturday, Dec. 1.
“If somebody asks you, ‘How was that game from a fan’s perspective?’ and you can answer that question, you probably haven’t been concentrating,” said Clark, who patrolled the sidelines when the Los Angeles Galaxy downed the Houston Dynamo 3-1 at the Home Depot Centre in Carson, Calf.
The entire on-field officiating group at the championship final was Canadian — a Major League Soccer first.
Daniel Belleau of Quebec was the game’s other assistant referee, while Silviu Petrescu of Ontario was the match referee.
“There’s that extra pressure,” said Clark, who found out minutes before the game it would be televised in 157 countries.
“They’re looking at us and saying, ‘OK, we’ve decided to give you this game, now it’s up to you guys to perform.’
“We’re performing for ourselves, but also for the possibility of Canadians being appointed to a game like that in the future.”
Most of the final’s critical decisions — including a pair of disallowed Robbie Keane goals and the two penalty kicks awarded — were not made by Clark.
“They were made at the other end,” he said.
“It turned out to be a very clean game for our team. The new guy in charge of our referee organization called PRO [Professional Referee Organization] is Peter Walton.
“He came to the room afterward and said, ‘That was an outstanding performance from all of you.’”
Clark started refereeing in Kamloops when he was in junior-high school. He got serious about officiating in 1999, a year before he moved to Victoria for university.
It was on Vancouver Island where he began moving up the refereeing ranks, earning praise for his work on the sidelines in a variety of different leagues and divisions.
In 2006, Clark decided to take the assistant-refereeing path, feeling he was better suited to be a linesman than a referee.
The Canadian Soccer Association nominated Clark to the FIFA list of international officials in 2007 and, by 2008, he was a FIFA-certified assistant referee.
Clark said the Cup final — Beckham’s last MLS match — likely tops the list of high-profile games he has officiated.
In 2010, Clark was on the pitch for a friendly between Mexico and New Zealand. The international was played in front of 90,500 fans at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
A year later, he worked a game between Costa Rica, the home side, and Spain.
“There was basically the entire Spain team on the field that had won the World Cup in 2010,” said Clark, a teacher at Logan Lake secondary.
Clark, who started working MLS games in 2008, did 13 matches last season, including two playoff games and seven tilts featuring the Vancouver Whitecaps.
An assistant referee of his calibre in MLS is paid $720 per game. Travel and accommodation costs are also taken care of and a per diem is provided.
Clark’s Logan Lake students are aware of his activities away from school and occasionally find photos of their teacher online.
The Kamloops High School graduate posed for a picture at the Cup final alongside movie star Gerard Butler and Galaxy captain Landon Donovan, among others.
Clark might see that one pop up in class in the near future.
“The ultimate goal is working a World Cup final or a FIFA tournament, but you need a lot of luck and a lot of people advocating for you,” Clark said.
Working high-profile matches is good for the resumé, no doubt, but that alone is not enough to earn the right to referee the world’s most prestigious tournaments.
“You also have to have a game that presents you with difficult decisions to get correct,” said Clark, president of the Kamloops Soccer Referees’ Association during the 2006-2007 campaign.
“You could have a game with no mistakes but, if there wasn’t a lot in it for you in terms of really, really difficult decisions, it’s hard to separate yourself from the rest.”
Perhaps Clark is just a few controversial calls away from reaching his goal.