New York soccer fans have seen plenty of prolific goal scorers through the years like Juan Pablo Angel, Adolpho Valencia, Thierry Henry, Bradley Wright-Phillips, and Giovanni Savarese.
But when you talk about a player who had the swagger on the field who can convert with help, or take down the opponent all by himself, we will always remember that wonderful era when Clint Mathis graced us with his brilliance.
The Georgia native and University of South Carolina product spent his first two years in the league with LA Galaxy before signing with the MetroStars in the 2000 dispersal draft. Mathis had been plucked by his former Galaxy coach and recently-hired MetroStars coach Octavio Zambrano, and Zambrano’s faith would be rewarded.
The many times Mathis scored a goal, he would lift up his jersey and show his I Love NY t shirt underneath. Mathis set the Major League Soccer record with five goals in a 2000 match against Dallas Burn - now FC Dallas.
He scored a hat trick in the first half with two passes by Alex Comas, with a rebound shot in between. Then a scramble and a penalty shot were scored in the second half. But in the following year, Mathis found another way to embarrass Dallas but did it at Giants Stadium.
The Metros were leading Dallas two goals to nil late in the game when Mathis decided to wow the crowd. After Tim Howard made the save, the ball found Mathis’s feet and off to the races he went. He cut through three defenders on an 80 yard run. When he got just inside the Dallas penalty area, he smashed the ball past Matt Jordan and got the hometown crowd on their feet.
That 2001 season Mathis was on a roll burying every single goal like there was no tomorrow, including a mid-week game against the Kansas City Wizards, he scored a hat trick with a left-foot free-kick, a running volley with the right foot, then a header to end the night.
His form spilled over into the national team’s qualifying campaign for the 2002 World Cup and was a key figure in the successful USA run at the finals in Korea and Japan. He converted a free-kick goal down in Honduras to get a big three points on the road before suffering a torn ACL injury during a summer friendly.
He came back early in the 2002 season and fought his way back into the MetroStars and USA lineups. He scored against South Korea with the US en route to the quarterfinals, where they controversially lost to Germany.
After years of transfer rumors Mathis finally left MetroStars as a free agent in late 2003 for an unsuccessful spell in Germany with Hannover 96 where injuries and disputes with coaches kept him on the sidelines. He came back to MLS with Real Salt Lake in 2005, then the Colorado Rapids in 2006.
But Mathis had a second wind in New Jersey as he joined the newly-branded New York Red Bulls in 2007 and achieved the club record of 45 goals in the famous game against David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy in a nearly sold-out Giants Stadium.
Clint Mathis was notable for his speed, guile, and an attitude of confidence every time he would attack and get involved in a play. He could create his own shot or convert a delivered ball in many ways. He was a thinker & a doer when he performed on the pitch.
That’s why every time he had the ball, you had a feeling that he was going to do something magical on the field and either with club or country, he was going to smash the net. After all, there’s only one Clint Mathis.