Why did Chicago Fire hire Clint Mathis, US soccer's original wild card? "Clint sees it a little differently"
It started, as so many Clint Mathis stories do, with a wisecrack.
New Chicago Fire director of soccer operations Frank Yallop was scouring his contacts last November, looking for a final coach to fill out his staff, when one of his hires already in place, technical director Brian Bliss, came across a candidate who was not on the radar.
“[Bliss] was saying that Frank was looking for an attacking-minded guy, and he hadn't really found the fit that he needed,” Mathis told reporters on a conference call this week. “I made a joke, being the jokester that I am and said, 'Well he hasn't talked to me. He hasn't said one word to me.'
"At the time, people didn't know that I was into coaching. Only a few people knew … He said, 'Hey, would you be interested in talking to Frank to see if it would be a good fit?'”
Talks progressed from there, and Mathis was announced as the final piece of Yallop's staff on the last day of January, shortly after the Fire's preseason began.
In a way, Mathis — who spent the last year coaching in the youth ranks as a camps and clinic supervisor for the LA Galaxy — is a perfect fit for the already experienced Fire staff because Yallop, Bliss and fellow assistant C.J. Brown were defenders during their playing days. For a team filled with young attacking players, Mathis's offensive acumen is an asset.
“I feel like we have all parts of the field covered with our staff,” midfielder Jeff Larentowicz said. “C.J. in the back and Clint with the forwards. We're at a good point now where we have an idea of what their goods are and what they want, and it's been good getting to know them.”
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In his staff, which also includes returning goalkeeping coach Aron Hyde, Yallop has compiled a group with immense MLS experience. Yallop, Bliss, Brown and Mathis all played during the league's early years, with the former two playing in the inaugural season in 1996 and the latter two joining in 1998.
As far as coaching goes, Mathis is the neophyte of the group. Yallop is in his 14th year of coaching and is a two-time MLS Coach of the Year winner, Bliss has been both an assistant coach and technical director in MLS, Brown spent two years coaching under Jason Kreis at Real Salt Lake and Hyde will be in his fifth year with the Fire. But Mathis, a World Cup veteran (pictured at right) legendary for marching to the beat of his own drummer, adds his own expertise and personality to the group.
“Clint sees it a little differently, and he acts a little differently,” Yallop said. “He has a loose personality, and that's great. It's working well; we work well together. We're jelling very nicely as a group.”
On the personality side, Mathis and fellow coaches agree he's similar to the player who scored 61 goals in 201 games – highly intense on the field, but light-hearted off of it.
“I was one of those guys that tried to be the difference-maker,” Mathis said. “I'm an intense guy when it comes down to it. I'm serious, but I like to think I'm a joking guy.
"I'm an assistant coach, but I can still relate to the players. I haven't been out of the game that long, I understand what it's like to be in a situation on the good side, on the bad side, and I understand what it takes to get through that situation.”