Season 10: Mathis feats wow fans
with both feet and his head.
"I don't know if it will ever happen again," Mathis said. "I never believed it could happen in the first place. It definitely could happen again, but the chances are pretty slim."
Jason Kreis, now Mathis's Real teammate, witnessed firsthand two of 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 said 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 tied 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. "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."
The 12,940 fans who watched the game did not appreciate goal No. 5.
"The crowd started booing, so I kind of held my hands up with five on each side. I don't know if they were booing at me or booing the penalty kick. I just ran back with five on each side. I thought they were booing at me," he said with a laugh.
Kreis, the MLS all-time leading goal-scorer, appreciated what had transpired.
"It was a magical night for Clint," he said. "The ball was definitely bounced his way that evening. ... His finishing that night was absolutely clinical."
An interesting side note: Ironically, Mathis would not record another point in the final three Metros regular season games, missing out on joining Kreis as a 15-15 player. Mathis finished with 16 goals and 14 assists.
Mathis would have to wait some eight months later before he would dazzle again.
In March, Mathis's free kick had given the U.S. a 2-1 win against host Honduras, the USA's first World Cup qualifying win in Central America in 11 1/2 years.
So, he was on fire and demonstrated that against the Burn at Giants Stadium on April 28, 2001, scoring on one of the great runs in U.S. soccer history, the MLS version of the great World Cup runs by Diego Maradona (1986) and Michael Owen (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."
Only four nights later on May 2 at Giants 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. "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 scored 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 was 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)."
Yet, Mathis wouldn't put that hat trick up there with the first two.
Mathis called his run against the Burn his most memorable MLS goal.
His most memorable ever? The goal in the 1-1 draw with South Korea in the 2002 World Cup.
"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."
Daniel Bona of Danvers, Mass., commented about last week's Roy Lassiter story and about a memorable Lassiter "goal" that wasn't counted in his 1996 tally. "His most memorable goal for me was a Saturday afternoon game," Bona wrote. "I can't remember who the other team was. But because of the foolish MLS rule about stopping the clock right at 45 minutes, he didn't get number 28. He took a shot from well outside the penalty area that sailed under the crossbar. The goalie tried but couldn't make the save. It was a spectacular goal. I believe his record should have an asterisk next to the number 27. It should say, he actually had 28 goals but for a stupid rule that now has changed, he was denied."
Michael Lewis writes about soccer for the New York Daily News and is editor of BigAppleSoccer.com. He has covered MLS since its inception, including the league's unveiling at the 1994 World Cup draw in Las Vegas. He can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com. Views and opinions expressed in this column are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com.