in every sense of the word -- during the 2002 World Cup proved that at the highest level he was more of a spark off the bench than a sure-fire starter.
Now, after his disappointing 2005 with Hannover 96, I'm reserving judgment until he does something again. Truth is, Clint's Hannover adventure was a disaster -- one of his own doing, by the way. (Though, RSL's formal relationship with Hannover is a very cool by-product of the Cleetus transfer. Hopefully more teams will follow RSL's lead.)
This is something I discussed here about a year ago, how U.S. players, and MLS players, in particular, have to do more than just go over and shine for the first month or so. Especially the strikers. As more and more MLS players go abroad, they must carve out whole careers, like Brad Friedel and Eddie Lewis have done, and like Carlos Bocanegra and DaMarcus Beasley seem to be doing. If they don't, an anomaly becomes a trend and trends scare people. Some teams just won't risk a fistful of dollars on a player that will last only two months and then freak out.
Here's how it works: The players over there are all smart, talented, and not really impressed by mohawks and smart-asses. Nobody's denying that Cleetus is capable of producing special things, but special moments are just that: moments. You had better produce over the long haul. And after the Bundesliga defenders figured him out, he was done. They got into his head, and then he got into his own head, and then the "other" Cleetus came out dancing and tapping his watch in a bizarre attempt to show up his own coach after scoring a goal off the bench. I'd bet 10 euros that Hannover's coach, Ewald Lienen, immediately turned to his assistant and asked, "How do you say goodbye in English?"
"I knew that there was probably no chance in the world that I would step back on the field, but given the situation, which only a couple of people knew what was going on, I probably didn't do the right thing, looking back. But I did what I felt was right in my heart because of the way I was treated," Mathis said during Thursday's press conference. "After I scored I had a lot of adreneline going and one thing I do is respect my teammates, but I didn't even acknowledge those guys.
"After I did it, the only people I apologized to were my teammates for not running up to them after the goal was scored. I did the watch thing and whatnot, but I don't regreat what I did. It might not have been the right thing, but I didn't do anything wrong, but he wouldn't listen to me any other way, so I sent a message to him that way. I would never take back what I've done. If [people] call it a mistake, I've learned from it and just moved on."
So, to my mind, Clint's got a lot to prove on the field. He's getting a third chance. He was great for the MetroStars, then not. He was great for Hannover (four goals in his first five games), then not (bench warmer, only one goal this season). Will he be great for RSL? We'll see. Will he avoid the "then not" clause? We'll see.
I sure hope so. Because I like Clint. He's funny and quick and clever. But at this point, he's kind of like a band about to release a third record, following a brilliant debut and a lousy sophomore effort. Usually, the third album isn't much better than the second. Cleetus joins RSL as some returning savior, but until he conjures up a magical run like that miraculous box-to-box sprint he provided a few years ago against Dallas and proves that he's the Cleetus of old, I'm going to hold my praise.
Of course, he's Cleetus. He doesn't care. He doesn't regret his antics at Hannover. Fine. You take the good with the bad.
But I'd be willing to bet another 10 euros that Clint does care about Landon Donovan. See, LD is kind of his antithesis. He's not a jokester, not a big public personality, not the kind to brag about his Bud Light keg-erator to Sports Illustrated. He lets his play do the talking, and other than a few whispering moments this past season, LD's play has often talked louder than Clint's.
Earlier this week, LD headed the opposite direction from Cleetus -- east -- to rejoin Bayer Leverkusen. Two days ago, he scored for Leverkusen in a friendly match on the Canary Islands, of all places, where Leverkusen are training during the Bundesliga's winter break. Sure, the opposition was a sixth division team whose starting lineup included Burgermeister Meisterburger and a rather confused descendent of Nietzsche. But every goal counts and this one should do wonders for LD's confidence heading into a weekend scrimmage with Feyenoord, and later this month the restart of the Bundesliga.
Landon also has a lot to prove. In some ways, he has to repair the damage Cleetus did in Germany. He has to go over there and have sustained success, be a good professional, etc. I'm talking multiple years, whether in Germany or maybe England or Spain. He may not start in the beginning, but he will get playing time and when he does he has to do something with that time. He's got to score goals, create opportunities for his teammates, become a mainstay at the highest club level possible for an extended period of time. If he goes out there, has a miraculous first month, and then stumbles, loses his stride, and decides to come home, I'm sorry, but LD will just be another Cleetus.
Look, at their best, these are the top two U.S. strikers. They are mercurial, as the more loquacious pundits like to say, whose skills can sometimes seem like the physical representation of music. The thing is, although history remembers one-hit wonders, it does so only on reruns of "Pop-up Video." True artists, like U2, Ferenc Puskas and Balzac, are prolific and remembered for all eternity.
Greg Lalas played for the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the New England Revolution in 1996 and 1997. Send e-mail to Greg at email@example.com. Views and opinions expressed in this column are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs.