A monthly feature about a U.S. Men's, Women's or Youth National Team player from the U.S. Soccer Communications Department.
This month, we zoom in on U.S. Men's National Team forward Clint Mathis, who has been on a tear -- wait, bad choice of words with someone who just suffered an ACL tear about this time last year. Let's start over... Mathis has been a man possessed, seemingly scoring in every game he's played for Team USA over the last year. Fact? Well, not exactly, but pretty darn close. More than any player on the U.S. World Cup Team, Mathis has become the one to watch during June both here at home and across Europe. So he's used to the spotlight. Now if he could just stay healthy...
"The Phoenix Rises"
It was an ordinary play in an ordinary session. Winger gets the ball on the flank, whips a cross into a crowded box, attacker and defender challenge for the ball. Someone winds up on the ground. What happened next wasn't so ordinary. What happened next was silence. A silence that would have been preferred to the words that came next: "I just did my ACL."
The date was June 5, 2001, two days before the USA friendly against Ecuador in Columbus, Ohio. Clint Mathis, the rising star of the U.S. Men's National Team and Major League Soccer, had quickly fallen back to earth. And no one knew when Phoenix would rise again. Except Mathis.
"Well, crazy things happen in life, don't they?" Mathis said philosophically to a group of stunned teammates as he sat with his leg propped up on the bench. "I woke up this morning, so it's a great day. Sometimes things happen, and we'll just get back to work tomorrow."
It had been a remarkable year for the Conyers, Georgia, native. After moving to the MetroStars from Los Angeles in mid-2000, Mathis developed into the showcase scoring stud in MLS. Before the injury, he racked up seven goals and five assists in just 10 appearances. He scored hat tricks. He scored on a 60-yard dribbling runs, leaving five defenders and a goalkeeper in his wake (the 2001 MLS goal of the year). Oh, and then there's the national team.
His heroics for the USA began right from the gate in the opening match of 2002 CONCACAF final round qualifying. In a trademark display of vision and touch, Mathis sprung former University of South Carolina teammate Josh Wolff through to goal, giving the United States all the scoring it would need in the all-important 2-0 home victory against Mexico. The assist sparked an incredible run for Mathis, in which he would record two goals and three assists in six matches, three times garnering Chevrolet Man of the Match honors. There was no question. This guy was special.
Reporters were calling left and right. There were planned features in The New York Times and USA Today. Major television appearances were in the works. The United States sat on the cusp of having its first true soccer superstar.
And then an ordinary play begins in training…
"Those things happen. I went through the same injury in college, and I came back stronger than I was before," said Mathis, who's becoming just as known for his wild style of dress as he is for his finishing ability. "I believe things happen for a reason, so I felt confident that I would come back again even stronger."
The U.S. faithful hoped he was right.
It's January 2002, and the national team assembled in Claremont, Calif., to train for the forthcoming 2002 CONCACAF Gold Cup, and more importantly, begin the crucial building process for the summer's main event. Two days after 27 players had started a grueling fitness regimen, in walks player #28 wearing cutoff sleeves and his trademark floppy hat (sporting the word "Cocks" to support his alma mater, South Carolina). The feelings of his teammates and coaches were summed up best by Wolff, who simply said, "It's good to have Clint back."
Indeed. After a couple of tune-up appearances off the bench in Gold Cup (in which a newly energized U.S. attack came on display), Mathis resumed his torrid scoring pace as if someone had simply hit the pause button and resumed play. Two goals against Honduras. The crucial assist against Ecuador. And then, in front of a packed house on their own turf, a pair against the vaunted German defense. And to round it out, the lone goal in the 1-0 win against Mexico in Denver. Is there anything this kid can't do?
Impressively, Mathis recorded a point in seven straight starts for the U.S., ending with the 2-1 loss to Ireland on April 17. More impressively, he's tallied a remarkable eight goals in just 18 appearances for the United States. Most impressively, while rumors of offers to play in Europe circulate, the curtain of the world's greatest soccer stage is about to be lifted and the eyes and hopes of U.S. Soccer fans are firmly trained upon him, Mathis has remained the same man he was just over 11 months ago sitting on the practice field with a bum knee. When recently asked about his prospects for a breakout performance in the World Cup, he began by saying, "Well, I woke up this morning, so it's a great day."
Table of Contents
1) Armchair Midfielder (The U.S. World Cup Roster)
2) Word Association (w/ WNT midfielder Kristine Lilly)
3) Desert Island Discs (w/ U-19 WNT midfielder Jessica Ballweg)
4) Queries and Anecdotes (w/ MNT defender Frankie Hejduk)
5) Big Man on Campus (w/ U-20 MNT goalkeeper Steve Cronin)
6) Superstar!!! (w/ MNT forward Clint Mathis)
7) Mark That Calendar ("Nike Road to Korea" -- May 12, 16 & 19)
8) "You Don't Know Jack (Marshall)" (WUSA trivia)
***HOW'S OUR WRITING?***
We want feedback. No, really. Positive, negative, indifferent--we take all kinds. Reach us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.