Clint Mathis performed magic during the spring of 2001. (MetroStars photo)
By Michael Lewis
Back in 2001, Clint Mathis lived a five days that very few, if any American soccer players, enjoyed in their club careers.
He scored off a brilliant 60-yard jaunt on April 28 and then connected for a natural hat-trick, using both feet and his head on the goals on Saturday, May 2. Both games were at Giants Stadium. Today is the 19th anniversary of the latter.
Not too shabby, huh?
In 2000, Mathis came into his own and then some after his trade from the LA Galaxy to the MetroStars. He almost became the second Major League Soccer player to break the 15-15 barrier (goals and assists in the same season; Dallas Burn’s Jason Kreis accomplished the feat first in 1999). He also became the first and only MLS player to tally five goals in a game against the Dallas Burn in a wild 6-4 triumph in Texas during that summer.
“I don’t know if it will ever happen again,” Mathis told me years ago. “I never believed it could happen in the first place. It definitely could happen again, but the chances are pretty slim.”
Kreis, who eventually became Mathis’s Real Salt Lake teammate, witnessed first hand two those memorable moments.
“During that stretch of time, I just became a big fan of Clint’s,” he said. “He was playing some unbelievable soccer. I sort of likened myself to his style of play. I think that he and I are similar players. It was fun to be in the stadium to see . . . what he was [accomplishing].”
No one was having more fun than Mathis, who entered the match against the Dallas Burn at the Cotton Bowl on Aug. 26, 2000 with 11 goals and 14 assists.
Mathis said his first shot that game landed some 14 rows into the seats. His next five were right on target — in the third, 26th, 40th, 68th and 83rd minutes.
Mathis called it his No. 1 MLS accomplishment. After all, several players had found the back of the net four times in an MLS match, but never five.
“It was something no one has ever done,” said Mathis, who admitted he had never scored five goals even in a youth game. “It seemed that everything I touched was going in. Maybe it was being at the right place at the right time. Me scoring all those goals was really weird.”
It was weird in many ways.
“It was kind of weird going into halftime with a hat-trick,” Mathis said. “That was a pretty weird feeling. I was just sitting there and just laughing. Then when we came back out, I got upset and intense. We blew a 3-1 lead and were losing 4-3. It was up and down and we were able to get one and another one.
“It was more important at that point to get the win there. It so just happened that a corner kick would put out and it would come to me and I would hit the shot.
“It was one of those days where it was meant to happen. You don’t think of your team scoring six goals and you scoring five goals and your team winning the game, 6-4.”
With the scored tie at 4-4 in the 83rd minute, the MetroStars were awarded a penalty kick. Adolfo Valencia usually took penalties, but team captain Tab Ramos, sensing the historical moment asked the Colombian international if Mathis could take the spot kick instead of him. He had no problem as did Mathis, who slotted his attempt past goalkeeper Matt Jordan.
“When you have four, you might as well take it,” Mathis said when he was Kreis’ teammate. “Look at Jason Kreis right now. If I was taking the PKs and he had 99 goals and that was for his 100th one, for sure, I would let him take it. I would give him the same respect that Valencia gave me.”
A month prior to his 2001 achievements, Mathis’s 11th-hour free kick had given the U.S. a 2-1 win over host Honduras, the Americans’ first World Cup qualifying win in 11 1/2 years.
So, he was on fire and demonstrated that against the Burn at Giants Stadium that April 28, scoring off one of the greatest runs in American soccer history, the MLS version of the great World Cup runs by Diego Maradona (1986) and Mike Owens (1998).
Let Mathis give us a play-by-play on one of the league’s great goals in the 60th minute with the MetroStars enjoying a 2-0 advantage in what would become a 3-2 victory:
“It was a situation where they got a guy thrown out of the game. We were defending a corner kick. The ball gets headed out and I was at the top of the box. I went to look for a pass up field and there was no one there because one of the forwards had just got thrown out. I decided to keep the ball because we were under a lot of pressure. So I just started dribbling.
“I was able to get past the first guy and another guy slid in and (tried to) toe-poke it. I just kept running. There was another guy who was back-tracking. I was able to face one way and go to the right and hit a near post shot. If I would have thought the entire play, there is no way I would have run that far or been able to (score). With three guys in front me, I would have never thought to do that.
“It just happened instinctively to try to keep the ball and start dribbling and it turned into a goal. When you get up to this level, you don’t think it’s possible to be able to do that.”
For the record, Mathis evaded Ryan Suarez and Jorge Rodriguez and beat Jordan from top of the penalty box.
“That game,” Kreis said with a laugh, “it was so pretty poor defending on that run that he made. But in the end, it was extremely positive on his part to take a run like that and finish like it he did.”
#OnThisDay in 2001…
Clint Mathis went 80+ yards to score the Goal of the Year! 🔥 pic.twitter.com/NbVeD9viTv
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 29, 2020
Only four nights later on May 2 at the stadium, Mathis was back at it again, connecting for that hat-trick against the defending champion and goal-stingy Kansas City Wizards in a 4-1 win.
“That one I don’t think that is comparable to the other two in my book. I didn’t think of it as anything special. I am used to using both feet. I guess when you sit back and look at it, you don’t see that too often,” he said with a laugh. “You might have a header and finish two goals off with a right foot, but its definitely pretty cool.”
After the Wizards grabbed an early 1-0 lead, Mathis struck in the 16th minute to equalize against keeper Tony Meola. He broke the deadlock off a Ramos feed in the 32nd minute and added another off a Ramos assist in the 49th minute.
“The first goal as a free kick,” he said. “I went around the ball and was able to get it and kept it low and get it on Tony’s side netting. The second one was on a left footed shot. I was able to dribble 20 yards across the top of the box and I was able to hit a left foot in the same goal in the same corner as the free kick. I was able to get on the end of the header (for the third goal).”
On this date in 2001, Clint Mathis scored a natural hat trick as the MetroStars hexed the KC Wizards 4-1 at Giants Stadium.
KC led early, but Mathis scored a curling free kick, a bending shot off a Tab Ramos pass, and headed in a Ramos corner for his third. El Tren also scored. pic.twitter.com/zA4lVbDUUJ
— Today In RBNY History (@RBNY_History) May 2, 2020
Yet, Mathis wouldn’t put that hat-trick up there with the first two.
Mathis called his Burn run his most memorable MLS goal.
His most memorable ever? The goal in the 1-1 draw with Korea in the 2002 World Cup. That came after Mathis injured an ACL during a national team training camp in 2001, returning from the injury in time to play for the USA the next summer.
“That was something I dreamed of doing,” he said. “No matter what is said about me or written about me, it is pretty cool I have something to look back on, to know I have accomplished things and that I had moments that people said ‘Wow!’ That feels good.
“That’s what we’re here in sports to do — the entertainment value. People aren’t going to go just to go. They want to see something they are not able to do. That’s why I watch golf or basketball and vice versa and the people in the everyday nine to five jobs who don’t have the athletic ability to do these things. That’s why they go to watch them.”