Clint Mathis plays his final game
The end came in the 27th minute, with the LA Galaxy's Clint Mathis giving way to Tristan Bowen and jogging off the soccer pitch for the last time.
Saturday's friendly against Real Madrid, a 3-2 Galaxy loss, was noteworthy not only for the appearance of the Spanish powerhouse and an enthusiastic Rose Bowl crowd of 89,134, but because it marked the finale of what has been one of the more colorful careers in U.S. soccer history.
The 33-year-old Mathis, a first-round draft pick of the Galaxy in 1998, an 11-year MLS veteran and former U.S. international who had 46 caps with the U.S. national team, decided to call it a career early last week after never quite recovering from preseason surgery to his left knee. On hand for a special pregame ceremony were his wife and two children, his parents and one of his brothers. He also received a framed, signed jersey with his number, 84, and Real Madrid captain and World Cup standout Sergio Ramos even applauded him when he came off the field.
"It was a great opportunity for me to finish my career with the same team and in the same stadium where I started," Mathis said. "It was an emotional day."
Chris Klein, who hugged Mathis during pregame warm-ups, has known Mathis since they were 17 years old and played against and with him. He said not only Major League Soccer but the game in general will miss Mathis' carefree approach.
"He's always been a free spirit and has always expressed that on the field," Klein said. "Having a personality like that in our game over the last 15 years or so has been fantastic. Not everyone liked him, but a lot of people loved him.
"I said to him the other day they showed the top 10 moments of Clint Mathis. He's had an amazing career and some moments that people never forget in our soccer history."
One of those came in the 2002 World Cup, when his game-tying goal on a brilliant, left-footed volley against South Korea helped vault the U.S. into the quarterfinals. He finished his MLS career with 61 goals and 52 assists in 258 regular-season games.
Mike Magee, who was a teammate of Mathis in New York in 2007, walked off the field with Mathis after Saturday's game and all Mathis could talk about was Magee performance.
"That's the kind of guy he [Mathis] is," Magee said. "To see his career end and look back on it, what he's done not only for me personally but this country is second to nobody. He made it overseas, he scored in the World Cup and he had an amazing MLS career. He played what, 11 years as a pro?
"That's something not many people can say. He did it his way."
Second-year defender Omar Gonzalez was a teammate of Mathis for only 19 games but appreciated his skill and tutelage.
"I followed Clint since I was young," Gonzalez said. "He's a very skillful player who added a lot to U.S. soccer and had a great career. Just having him this first half of the season was amazing for me; I saw what he could bring to the team, he was great in the locker room ... he really helped me along the way, even though it wasn't for very long.”
"I just really appreciate what Clint has done for the game." Landon Donovan, a fairly talented player in his own right, said Mathis had few peers.
"Clint has arguably been our most talented player since I've been around the national team," he said. "I remember from my first camps with him thinking that I've never seen an American player with that kind of talent ... still to this day.
"He still does things a lot of guys can't do or wouldn't even think to do. I think he's been important to the younger kids on this team in different ways. He's had ups and downs the last few years that he can articulate to the guys. We're going to miss (his presence) in the locker room."