SANDY, Utah -- The U.S. national team is in the Salt Lake City area this week for Saturday's important World Cup qualifier against El Salvador. But before I headed up to the U.S. training base in Park City, I sat down with a memorable figure from the team's past.
To others, Mathis is a player who failed to fulfill his vast potential, who missed his chance to become U.S. soccer's first international superstar. Hard to believe: It has been 4½ years since Mathis, now 32, last trained with the U.S. national team.
But Mathis is still playing, still producing on occasion for Real Salt Lake. He has two goals and seven assists this season, and every once in a while, he can produce a
Over lunch at a Chinese restaurant here, Mathis and I talked about his
I don't think it necessarily changed my life as far as my beliefs and the way I live, but the media attention was growing, especially for that '02 World Cup. We haven't been able to produce a World Cup like we did in '02. And to be a part of that was a huge impact on my life, too.
You don't need to really be peaking now. You need to qualify for the World Cup but you need to be peaking next summer and get the first win under your belt like we did in '02, and the sky's the limit from there. You look at it, and the one game we should have won in that World Cup was against Germany, and if that's the case we go to the semifinals and play South Korea, which we'd gone 1-1-1 against in the previous year. And then we play them, have a good chance of beating them again and then we're in the final. And who would have thought the U.S. would be in the final?
It's just about the timing. Hopefully this new era of kids can withstand the pressure, because it is a lot of pressure. You've got a billion people watching you. I can't think of any other sport that has that. It's crazy to even fathom.
And someone I think is going to be really successful, but it's two totally different positions, is
But now I've gotten to where I've let that go. I don't have a grudge anymore. Business is business. It just didn't turn out on either end of it the way I was expecting. I think that kind of caused a downfall in my career, just going, 'What am I doing playing here? These guys didn't treat me right.' So I held a chip on my shoulder for some time. Then I went over and played at Hannover, played well. It's one of those situations where a coach came in and brought his own guys in, and I got kind of the short end of the stick on that one.
I probably shouldn't have come back. Because what killed me was coming back to the U.S. and playing for Salt Lake the first year [in '05]. I was supposed to make miracles happen like I did when I was in New York. And as the game gets better and the league gets stronger it's harder to do that.
I don't think we've played as well as a team as we did at the end of last season, but all we have to do is make the playoffs. I think we have a bunch of good players, but we haven't reached our full potential. Right now, we're coming off a couple big wins, and it's all about timing. As long as you get in the playoffs, the way it's set up in this league, anything can happen.