It admittedly was a long time coming for the LA Galaxy's Clint Mathis in Saturday's 3-1 victory over the Philadelphia Union at Home Depot Center.
The veteran midfielder, who turns 34 in November, suffered a knee injury that required surgery early in training camp and only recently was deemed fit enough to practice and play. And there he was on Saturday night, replacing Alan Gordon in the 70th minute and nearly setting up a goal for Landon Donovan in extra time.
The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder, who was acquired from MLS champion Real Salt Lake during the offseason and is back for his third stint with Los Angeles, was more than happy to be in the swing of things again.
"It felt good," he said. "As you get older, it takes a little longer to recover. I'm not in the best of shape, but I'm pretty much back to normal. It's just a matter of getting fitter now, to the point where I can go 90 minutes."
If Mathis, who was making the 250th regular season appearance of his MLS career, wasn't creating chances for the Galaxy, he also was acting as peacemaker on Saturday. He broke up a potential skirmish between Donovan and the Union's Fred in the 78th minute. Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena was pleased to see Mathis being able to contribute again.
"It's been about three
months since Clint's surgery," Arena said. "He has a long way to go,
but we thought it was important to get him on the field tonight. We're hopeful
we can use him obviously as we move
toward the summer months.
"It's going to take some time, but this is a starting point. Hopefully, we can move him along in a way where he positions himself to give us some major minutes during the season. Just to get him back on the field is a real plus."
His Galaxy teammates were more than happy to see him playing again.
"It was nice to see him
come on," midfielder Chris Birchall said. "It probably was the ideal
game for him to come in and get some touches and feel like he's back on the
team. He's a great player with so much
experience and he has a championship medal from last year.
"He's one of those players you find on the pitch and he's comfortable on the ball and he hardly ever gives it away."
Donovan said Mathis will be a big help when the Galaxy's schedule gets packed with the likes of CONCACAF Champions League and U.S. Open Cup competitions, in addition to the MLS regular season.
That the Galaxy (5-0-1) have continued to succeed without the likes of Mathis, Eddie Lewis, Gregg Berhalter, David Beckham and Jovan Kirovski in and out of the lineup is a testament to their impressive
depth. And now that Mathis appears to be back, that could mean more bad news
"We're doing all this without five or six key components to our team," Donovan said. "If you take five or six key components out of any other team in the league, they would struggle big-time. We've been doing a great job.
"Clint did very well with he came in. He moved the ball and helped create some chances. He's going to help us a lot."
Mathis' appearance marked his first time in a Galaxy uniform since May 6, 2000 in a 0-0 tie with Kansas City. The popular veteran said it was hard to fathom his last official game with Los Angeles had been five days short of 10 years ago.
"I know it's been that long," he said, "but I can't believe it. It definitely doesn't seem that long ago, but I'm glad to be back here. I wish it could have been sooner, but that's the way things work.
"Hopefully we can continue to do this and get an MLS championship here."