Clint Mathis

The Clean Sheet: Legend of Cleetus

I want to give them another chance to wow me.

Let's be honest, Cleetus' wild roller-coaster of a career fits that train wreck mold, as in I just can't stop looking at it. He ropes you in with moments of brilliance and wonderment at how good he might become. And then he leaves you shaking your head at what could (and should) have been.

So what do I say to John Ellinger and RSL taking a shot on him? Bravo.

This league needs strikers, and good ones. Twelve goals should not be enough for a Golden Boot in MLS. While Mathis has only topped that total once in MLS (in 2000), he has scored 52 times in MLS contests, including five in one game back in 2000. He has also proven he can score -- and do so in style -- on the grandest of stages as evidenced by his magnificent goal against South Korea in the 2002 World Cup.

But it says here the league doesn't just need strikers, it needs a touch of flamboyancy. MLS is a bit lacking in creative flare these days, and this guy has so much flare he could satisfy Jennifer Aniston's boss in "Office Space."

And even better, he's still in his late 20s, so this is not a player coming in for one last bite of the limelight before he hits the dog track. He's got plenty of goalkeepers (and, yes, probably bridges) still to burn.

Yeah, it's not all roses with Cleetus. In between the flashes of brilliance he has his, um, moments. Yes, The Bruce has publicly questioned his work habits. Sure, a past MLS coach questioned his sanity. Yup, he did make a rather uncouth gesture at his coach for putting him in the game too late, and was subsequently banished to the bench.

But that's Cleetus. Why does RSL want him? Because before he pulled the watch garbage in Hannover, he began his stay there by doing the other thing he is best known for -- torching defenses. And for any MLS team, much less an expansion side, that is a risk worth taking.

And so I am ready for another bout of my Cletus-aholism. Deep down in places I don't like to talk about, I hope that he goes to RSL, bangs in 25 goals, gets fined for drinking a beer on the bench after Ellinger pulls him too early one game, grows pony-tails like Latrell Sprewell, and dates the mayor's 18-year-old daughter. Okay, I don't know if the mayor has an 18-year-old daughter, but that would be so Cleetus.

The kid is a Georgian gun-slinger, he lives by it and he dies by it. When he is on form, he is a swashbuckling, enterprising footballer with a creative flare that few Americans can match. And when he is not, it all seems to go a bit pear-shaped.

And that is the Legend of Cleetus. And why I will be watching a lot more RSL games if they bring him in and turn him loose -- if they just let Cletus be Cletus, on and off the pitch.

I do, however, fear that Salt Lake City may never be the same.

The Clean Sheet runs each Thursday on Views and opinions expressed in this column views and opinions are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs. Send any questions and comments to

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