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An American original
by Paul Kennedy, August 3rd, 2010 9:34PM

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TAGS:  americans abroad, los angeles galaxy, men's national team, mls

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[MY VIEW] As American stars go, there has been no one quite like Clint Mathis. Over a two-year period ending with the 2002 World Cup finals, Mathis, who announced plans to retire on Saturday, was the hottest goalscorer the USA has ever produced.

His five goals for the MetroStars against Dallas in 2000 still stand as a single-game MLS record.

He opened the next season with seven goals in his first six MLS games -- including the Goal of the Year with what ranks as one of the best goals ever scored in MLS (Video) -- and he scored the key goal of the USA's Hexagonal campaign, a late free kick that gave the Americans a 2-1 win at Honduras in their second game.

And decked out in a Mohawk cut for the occasion, he scored one of the most dramatic goals in U.S. history, a first-half strike in the 1-1 tie with host South Korea that would help propel the USA on its quarterfinal run at the 2002 World Cup.

But then there was the other side ...

Mathis was first MLS player to ever grace the cover of Sports Illustrated, but the story, published on the eve of the 2002 World Cup, was hardly flattering.

"For Clint Mathis, the next party is never far away," wrote Michael Bamberger in his lead, which went on to describe the basement of Mathis' New Jersey townhouse -- with both Budweiser and Bud Light on tap -- and ended with him answering a teammate's call.

"Wachoo got goin' on tonight?" Mathis said.

Like another Clint who would follow him -- Clint Dempsey -- Mathis'  background wasn't typical of American soccer stars.

Like Dempsey, who was raised in East Texas, Mathis was raised in the South -- a product of Conyers, Ga. Dempsey attended Furman, while Mathis went to nearby South Carolina.

Like Dempsey, Mathis wasn't raised in an upper middle-class family typical of the American youth soccer experience.

And like Dempsey, Mathis was particularly close with his family. As a child, his older brothers would only play with him if he used his left foot -- the foot he scored with against South Korea in Daegu.

But unlike Dempsey, Mathis never made it abroad.

Whether it was a knee injury suffered in 2001 or his reputation for being a party animal or something else, a much-publicized move to Bayern Munich -- central to the SI cover story -- never took place.

Mathis settled on Hannover 96, where his career began brightly with four goals in his first five games but soon soured.

His Bundesliga career ended famously when he came off the bench late in a game and 90 seconds later stole the ball from a Schalke 04 player, beat two players and scored the winning goal for Hannover's first win of his second season in Germany.

Mathis ran over to the Hannover bench and pointed at his watch to Coach Ewald Lienen as if to ask why had he not put him in the game sooner.

Lienen started Mathis in the next game but never used him after that. Mathis' Bundesliga career was finished.

Mathis' temper was always an issue. He ranks first all-time in MLS with nine red cards.

Except for a brief stint in Greece in 2008, Mathis spent the rest of his career in MLS, but he was never the same.

He never again played a competitive game for the USA. He had two stints at Real Salt Lake (helping it win MLS Cup 2009), one at Colorado, another one at New York, and two more at Los Angeles.

He scored 48 goals in his first six MLS seasons but only 13 goals in his last six.

His 61 career goals put him tied for 19th all-time on the MLS scoring list.

His 12 goals put him tied for 12th all-time among U.S. national team players.

Those rankings don't begin to describe how great Clint Mathis once was.

Bothered by knee trouble, he'll say farewell on Saturday when the Galaxy faces Real Madrid at the Rose Bowl.



0 comments
  1. Art Robles
    commented on: August 4, 2010 at 1:07 p.m.
    He was really developing into something special when the Galaxy traded him to NY in order to sign Luis Hernandez. Overall, a short-term deal that didn't produce for the Gs. But, even though Mathis still had some good years in him, including the pivotal contributions as a sub in the famous Cold War match in Columbus, I've always wondered if being traded so young, from a team that was doing so well, after being its hottest player, had a long-term negative impact on Clint. No doubt he had some issues. Over the last few years, he had become a very mature player, but I wonder how much different things would've been had he been a lifelong G.


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