For a solid two-year stretch, from 2000 to 2002, Clint Mathis was arguably the best American player in the world.
He put together goal-scoring runs the likes of which MLS has never seen, before or since.
Playing for the MetroStars in 2000, he scored five against Dallas for a single-game record that still stands.
In the first six games of the following season, he scored seven goals, including this masterpiece, the 2001 Goal of the Year:
Mathis’s white-hot run continued through World Cup qualifying that year—he gave the U.S. a crucial, last-gasp victory with a beautiful free kick in Honduras—and into the 2002 tournament itself, when he did this against co-hosts South Korea, in front of a stadium full of their red-clad fans:
We would argue that that goal is one of the Top 5 most important (and best) goals in U.S. soccer history: Highest stakes, hostile territory, and without the (extremely well-taken) goal, the U.S. doesn’t advance out of group play in the tournament.
Cletus did have some off-field and disciplinary issues. He kept two kegs of beer on tap at home at all times while playing for the MetroStars, and his temper frequently got the better of him on the field. He may have produced an even better career if he’d gotten control of those tendencies.
But what he did produce was plenty good enough, and carved out a permanent place in the annals of U.S. soccer history.
Mathis, 33, did stints in Germany (where he showed his goal-scoring touch but fell afoul of his coach over playing-time issues) and Greece in addition to his 12 years in MLS.
He will hang them up after he and the Galaxy face Real Madrid in an exhibition on Saturday.