One More for Mathis

MLS legend looks forward to his final game; next step of his career

Gallery_Mathis_01

Photo Credit: 
Getty Images

The town of Conyers, Ga., is located about 20 miles east of Atlanta and is best-known for hosting the
mountain biking and equestrian competitions in the 1996 Olympics. But it's also
home to one of this country's most popular soccer players, one who is calling
it a career on Saturday.

The LA Galaxy's Clint Mathis, an 11-year veteran of Major
League Soccer who began his career with Los
Angeles in 1998, will retire after Saturday's friendly
against Real Madrid at the Rose Bowl.

The 33-year-old said he almost feels a huge weight off his
shoulders, now that his final day in a game he has played since he was 3 years
old is at hand.

"For sure," he said. "When it's a situation
where my body really can't take it anymore, I have to step back and say it's
time. Do I want to play? Of course. But once I made this decision there was a
huge relief.

"I'm actually really excited. I don't have to crawl out
of bed and stand there for two or three minutes, making sure my leg is going to
work. That's stuff a 33-year-old man is not supposed to be going through.

"It was time."

Mathis will leave behind an impressive list of
accomplishments that includes 61 career MLS goals, 46 caps with the U.S.
National Team and an MLS Cup, which he won last season as a member of Real Salt
Lake. Mathis returned to
the Galaxy in a January trade after expressing a desire to end his career in Los Angeles, but he
suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee in training camp and played in only
nine regular season games this season.

"I think this last month or so has been real
hard," he said. "It's just been tough ... I'd go home every day and
could barely walk sometimes. It's one of those decisions where I am getting
older, and the knees are holding me back from continuing to play at this level.
I think it was a smart decision for my future, having two kids and being able
to do stuff with them as I get older."

Mathis, who has a son, Maximus (who turned 2 on Wednesday)
and daughter, Capryce (who will be four months old on Saturday), was taken
sixth overall by the Galaxy in the 1998 draft out of the University of South
Carolina and earned his first cap with the National Team that same year against
Australia. He also went on to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated as part of its
World Cup preview issue in 2002.

Mathis not only will be remembered for his goal-scoring
abilities -- who can forget his memorable left-footed volley that tied South Korea in
the 2002 World Cup? -- but his fiery demeanor. To say he was competitive is putting
it mildly; he still owns the MLS record for most career ejections, nine.

"I find it hard to believe," he said with a laugh.
"I think they missed some people's count in there. The people that know me
know I'm a really nice individual, but when I get out there I'm so competitive
I flip the switch and I'm in business mode. When I get in that situation, I
want to do whatever it takes to win the game.

"I guess I can apologize to the referees now, that I
won't be playing much anymore."

Mathis will finish his Galaxy career -- he is in his third
stint with the club -- with 15 goals and 17 assists in 74 games. He arrived on
the scene in Los Angeles
with a flourish by totaling five goals and 10 assists in a Galaxy offense that
scored an MLS-record 85 goals. He finished as the Galaxy's third-leading scorer
in 1999 with seven goals and three assists and was on pace for another
impressive season in Los Angeles the following year, with three goals and an
assist in eight games, when he was sent to the MetroStars in order to allow the
Galaxy to sign Mexican international Luis Hernandez. Mathis went on to have 13
goals and 13 assists, including a league-record five goals in a home victory
over Dallas, in
21 games for the MetroStars.

He also was a finalist for the MLS MVP award that season and
was an All-Star for the first of four times in his career.

He never came close to those lofty numbers again -- he did
have nine goals for the MetroStars in 2003 -- and did not have a goal or an
assist in 2008, when he returned to MLS (Real Salt Lake) from Greek Super League side
Ergotelis FC. But he played in 28 games in 2009 -- the most since his rookie
season -- and came off the bench in all of Real
Salt Lake's
four postseason matches, including last November's MLS Cup in Seattle, where he won his first MLS
championship at the expense of the Galaxy.

Mathis then asked to be traded to Los Angeles to end his career, and the Galaxy
obliged by sending the 15th overall pick and a Third Round selection in the
SuperDraft for a 16th pick and Mathis.

Mathis may be leaving the game on a competitive level, but
he said he will continue to be around the Galaxy, but he won't be training with
them on a daily basis. He also said he is looking into some business ventures.

One thing is certain, however. He can use the break.

"I have been playing since I was 3 and professionally
for 13 years," he said. "I might take a step back a little bit, take
it all in and maybe come back eventually doing something with soccer.

"I know for sure I'll miss it. That break could be a
month or two years. All I've known and all I've done is soccer, I'm excited to
try new challenges."