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One More for Mathis

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."