One of the most talented and talked-about American strikers currently playing is returning to MLS, as Real Salt Lake announced Thursday that they used their first player allocation to acquire former Los Angeles Galaxy and MetroStars forward Clint Mathis.
By signing Mathis, RSL has formed one of the most dangerous strike forces in the league, at least on paper. Mathis, who has scored 48 goals in six previous seasons in MLS, joins the league's all-time leading scorer, Jason Kreis, on the front line in Salt Lake City. RSL also has young international forwards Erick Scott and Dipsy Selolwane at their disposal.
"Clint's ability and willingness to shoot from distance is one of the things that sets him apart," said Real Salt Lake head coach John Ellinger. "He can just take a game over and explode on opposing teams. He is an adept passer, he's menacing on free kicks and we're thrilled to have him in Salt Lake."
In the past, Mathis has shown a flair for scoring impressive and important goals. In 2001, he weaved his way through the majority of the Dallas Burn defense with a spectacular run that started in his own half and ended with him scoring the Goal of the Year. Against South Korea in the 2002 World Cup, Mathis scored the opening goal of a 1-1 draw that, combined with Korea's defeat of Portugal four days later, propelled the U.S. into the tournament's knockout stage.
Mathis returns after spending the past year with Hannover 96 of the German Bundesliga. The U.S. international, who has scored 11 goals in 44 appearances with the U.S. national team, set the Bundesliga ablaze in early 2004, scoring four times in his first five matches. But after his hot start, Mathis only scored once more for Hannover before the end of the 2003-2004 season and he scored just once in limited playing time in the first five months of the current season.
Despite his talent, Mathis has faced some criticism in the past, particularly in the final months of his time with the Metros. After scoring a goal in every game the MetroStars played in May 2003, Mathis scored in just two more games for the remainder of the season, finishing with nine goals. As the MetroStars struggled toward the end of the year, Mathis shouldered a large deal of the blame from fans and local media.
Regardless of what has been said or written about him, Mathis is excited to be returning to MLS and playing for Real Salt Lake.
"I am very excited to be here in Salt Lake, playing for John Ellinger and performing as part of a world-class team," said Mathis. "Everything I've heard about this community and their response to what Dave Checketts and Steve Pastorino are doing off the field, combined with my happiness to be playing for John, gives me a great feeling of anticipation for the MLS season. I can't wait to get out there and play."
Mathis is due to make his RSL debut on April 2 when his new club opens its inaugural season against his former club, the MetroStars.
Jason Halpin is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.