CARSON, Calif. – Clint Mathis couldn't have scripted a more fitting end to an illustrious Major League Soccer career.
Twelve years after his professional soccer debut, Mathis will close out his career on the very field where it all began. He will bow out of the game on Saturday, when the LA Galaxy host Real Madrid at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
WATCH: Best of Clint Mathis
“I’ve always said I wanted to retire with the team I started, and that’s here with the Galaxy,” Mathis said after his final training session. “I was fortunate to come back here and that’s the first stadium that used to be our home stadium, the Rose Bowl.
"It couldn’t have worked out any better, to be able to play against a team like Real Madrid in the old stadium I used to play at, because I would never have gotten the chance to play again there.”
Mathis, 33, announced his retirement earlier this week, citing aching knees and a desire to rest and recover from years of wear. Now he will have the chance to play one more time alongside his Galaxy teammates and is likely to receive a healthy ovation from what's expected to be close to 90,000 fans in attendance.
Also, he will have the opportunity to take the field as a starter.
“He’s not going to play long but … he will start the game,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “That’s the least we can do to recognize his contributions, not only to this organization, but to US Soccer as well.”
Arena and Mathis have spent a considerable amount of time together, first with the US National Team early in Arena’s tenure, and later with the New York Red Bulls and now with the Galaxy. Having had the chance to see Mathis in action, particularly in his prime, was enjoyable for Arena.
It also allowed him the chance to have a front-row seat for what Arena considers one of the most important goals in US soccer history.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Landon [Donovan] with his goal [against Algeria] this year in the World Cup, but perhaps the most important goal in the history of our World Cup play [was] the goal [Mathis] scored against South Korea in 2002,” Arena said. “It was a fabulous goal. Very few players who ever put on a US shirt were ever able to finish off a play like that.”
Before his national-team breakthrough, however, Mathis was a young talent with the Galaxy. He debuted in a shootout victory over San Jose on March 21, 1998 at the Rose Bowl and earned his first start a week later, fittingly against the MetroStars.
His first professional goal came on April 11 of that year, at the MetroStars, and his first multi-goal game was on May 23 in a 5-1 win over Dallas at the Rose Bowl.
That same venue was also the site of Mathis’ triumphant return. The midfielder was dealt away to the MetroStars eight games into the 2000 regular season to make room for Luis Hernández. He came back and scored the game-winning goal in a 2-0 win on June 3, 2000. After the goal, he unveiled an undershirt that read “I &hearts NY.”
“I know it was a weird situation, with me having to leave with Luis Hernández coming in,” Mathis said. “At first I was bothered by it, having to pick up and leave a team that I enjoyed being on, but at the same time it was a blessing in disguise.
“It started me off with a new team and that pretty much lit up my career. That’s where it started,” continued Mathis. “Just having that shirt was no disrespect way back in the day. It was just to show the New York fans that this was my team, even though I got traded and didn’t want to be, that I was there to play for them.”
Now, Mathis will create even more memories at the Rose Bowl.
“It’s funny how it did work out for me,” Mathis said. “It’s a great situation I’m in right now.”