Thursday, August 5, 2010

Remembering the Mohawk: A Tribute to Clint Mathis

American Legend
As the ball settled after slamming into the back of the net he reared off to the corner flag with his jubilent teammates in tow. His goal brought crazed celebrations from US fans across the nation and set his side on course for the next round of the World Cup.

But this wasn't Landon Donovan. And this most certainly wasn't 2010 or South Africa.

It was Clint Mathis, the year was 2002, and the place Korea/Japan. Mathis' goal grabbed a crucial point against South Korea putting the US National Team in position to carry on to the knockout stages for the first time in the team's modern era. As most Nats fans know the US rolled up on Mexico in the Round of 16, 2-0, and were just a Torsten Fringes-handball away from a place in the World Cup semi-finals.

Mathis with his bad boy mohawk, making his and its World Cup debut, was a sensation.

On Saturday, August 7th Clint Mathis will play in his last professional game for the Los Angeles Galaxy, an international friendly against Spanish La Liga side Real Madrid. His retirement marks the end of a often brilliant and similarly often turbulent career.

Mathis began his Major League Soccer career with the Galaxy in 1998 so it's fitting that he finish it with his starter club. In between he's featured on four different MLS sides (Galaxy three times, MetroStars/Red Bulls two times, Real Salt Lake twice, and the Rapids) plus two stints in Europe (Germany's Hannover 96 and Greek side Ergotelis F.C.).

Mathis saw his early success with LA lead to a transfer to the MetroStars where he was on fire bagging an MLS-record five goals against the Dallas Burn in 2000 and finished second in scoring in the league. In 2001 he scored seven goals in his first six games, including the eventualy MLS "Goal of the Year". Despite tearing his ACL during that season he was named to the 2002 World Cup squad by manager Bruce Arena (his current manager at the Galaxy).

Bringin' the paper cuts.
The World Cup in Korea/Japan put Mathis and the U.S. National Team on the map. Young stars Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley garnered a fair share of the limelight, but it was the mohawked Mathis gave a edgy, exciting face to US Soccer in 2002. He was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated (the first soccer player in eight years) in the Cup preview issue and launched the U.S. into the second round of the tournament with his game-tying goal against South Korea (despite a loss to Poland in the next match).

Still rockin' what works.
Mathis moved to Germany to play for Hannover 96 after MLS blocked a move to power house, Bayern Munich. Despite his high-profile contributions in the Korea/Japan Mathis, like many American players abroad, found playing time scarce. Mathis scored a game-wining goal as a late substitute for Hannover and famously ran over to the coach tapping his watch. He started the following game, but never appeared for the German side again.

Mathis bounced around MLS for a few years and a short time in Greece before landing in Salt Lake where he contributed to their run to the MLS Cup in 2009.

Despite his roller coast club career, Mathis' contributions to the American game cannot be question. He became one of the first poster boys of U.S. Soccer paving the way for major media coverage of future stars Donovan et al. Just when soccer in America was getting it's first taste of the fame they had a unique character to capture and hold the nation's attention.

If we're here to promote the American version of the game, the history cannot be written without Mathis getting a fair shake. He made the mohawk the must-have hair cut of summer 2002 (eat your heart out, Beckham).

Pour a cold one for Clint, but preferably not a Germany beer. Those 2002 hand-balling bastards!

Photo Credits: (2),, LA Galaxy,

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Nick said...

Excellent career eulogy. This put's SBI's post about Clint to shame.

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