Cup vets come home from abroad
Nearly seven years ago, Mathis sent a searing strike into the South Korean net during the most successful U.S. World Cup. He trapped a throw-in from
The goal seemingly typified the unerring trajectory of his career. He had the swagger, the skill, the Mohawk and the allure of perennial German powerhouse Bayern Munich bidding for his services. At age 25, fame and fortune looked to be a sitter, but alas, he couldn't hit the target.
Bayern had bid slightly more than $1 million for him, not the $5 million widely reported, and MLS turned it down. He eventually would go to Germany, but to a lesser club and not much success.
After joining Hannover in January 2004, he scored four goals in 16 matches for coach
"It might not have been the best decision at that time," he says of leaving Germany, where his fondness of nightlife and initial success -- four goals in the first five games -- fed the voracious sporting and tabloid media. When his luck changed, so did the coverage. "But it is what it is. I just wanted to continue playing soccer and enjoy playing soccer."
Former Real Salt Lake coach
The rabid fervor of Greek league games often boils over into violence as giants Panathinaikos, AEK and Olympiakos usually predominate. "I saw some of that in Germany, because the fans are really crazy in Germany," he says. "I saw a quite a few fights and riots, I guess. It's a little bit different in that regard, but I never felt threatened to where I was worried about my safety. But it was kind of interesting to see the security guards with their helmets bringing out their riot shields."
When the season was over, with his wife
"I thought we were going to work things out with the Galaxy and I guess things just got prolonged with the situation regarding
"Jason made a call to see if he could get my rights, and the Galaxy said, 'Yeah.' That was pretty much the situation." RSL traded a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2010 SuperDraft. It didn't need to offer much; nobody else was interested.
He joined Kreis in Salt Lake City in time to play 11 matches. He failed to notch a goal or an assist, yet not coincidentally, RSL surged strongly down the stretch and got into the playoffs with a last-minute goal in Colorado. Another pair of dramatic games eliminated Chivas USA 3-2 on aggregate before the dream ride ended against, ironically, the Red Bulls, Mathis' previous MLS club.
"Maybe when I was younger, not scoring a goal or getting an assist would have really bothered me, because usually that was what I was expected to do," he says. "I was the guy who had to score goals. But I'm playing a different game here. I got myself fit and I've dropped into midfield, where I can do a lot of things to help the team. I've known Jason for a long time, he's a good friend of mine, but we don't let that affect how we do our jobs. He's the coach, I'm the player, and what he says, that's it."
No national-team player has come back to MLS at such a young age as Convey, but then again, he signed as the league's youngest player at age 16 in 2000 and left the league four years later to play in England for Reading.
The Royals earned promotion to the Premier League in the spring of '06, propelled in part by Convey's driving runs out of midfield and seven goals. At the '06 World Cup, as the Americans crashed out with just one point from three games, he suffered a knee injury, an ailment that he would aggravate upon his return to Reading, and mar his career for the next two years.
"It was a bit of a difficult situation in England with my knee, it was misdiagnosed," he says of surgeries and follow-up procedures to repair ligament damage and clear out debris. "That happens in England, so it was difficult. It's very difficult when people write you off, and say, 'You're injured, you're injured,' when you know you're not. I just get on with it. I came home and got the surgery that I needed and talked them into letting me go now, so it took a while."
San Jose Earthquakes coach
"Playing three positions in one game, it looks good in the stats, I guess, but it's not fun to do that," he says. "It just kind of happened that way. But I want to do well. What I did today is what I want to do every game."
He also wants a shot with the national team, but hints that regular playing time and good performances might not impress the current coach,
"The coach chooses who he wants to choose," says Convey, mindful the U.S. is loaded with midfielders. "It is what is it. I've talked with him a couple of times. Obviously I wasn't in the plans. There's a reason behind that. It's not just playing."
Returning to MLS went smoothly for Eddie Lewis, his wife and three children, at least off the field.
Though his previous league stint had been spent entirely in San Jose, he'd grown up in Cerritos -- not far from Disneyland -- and attended UCLA. Surrounded again by family members and most of their close friends, Eddie and
"You do adapt to the culture and we found in England we lived a much simpler life in many ways," he says. "The two biggest factors, at least for us in England, were weather and family. We have three children now, so it's nice to have friends and family around, and certainly in Southern California, you're not limited in your ability to enjoy things outside and not feel you're going to be locked up for days at a time."
The third game of '09 season matched the Galaxy with Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center.
"It's a big game for us and I haven't been a part of these local rivalry games here so it's exciting," he said of a 0-0 tie that featured nine yellow cards, three ejections and 31 fouls. "I've gone through some pretty heated derbies or rivalries, and they're amazing. They're always slightly more special for whatever reason and no matter where the teams are. The games are already pretty intense as it is. I remember one Preston-Burnley game, honestly, it felt like I'm not even sure if the ball ever touched the ground. Everybody was slamming into somebody or smashing the ball somewhere. The fans ended up riling up the players so much it took a while until they started to get a little tired and the game normalized a bit, and that took maybe 20 minutes."
Lewis knows most games aren't like that in MLS, but he does sense that teams have built up friction and bad blood during the eight years he was gone. Chivas USA-Galaxy, Houston-Dallas, New England-Chicago, D.C. United-New York, San Jose-Los Angeles all have an edge. Such is the norm in England, not just in derby matches, but for some teams, just about every time it steps on the field. There's a lot of history -- the Football League was formed in 1888 -- and acrimony.
"In many ways, at some of the clubs -- Leeds, for instance -- they seem to have had an issue with just about every club," says Lewis of the League champion in 1972 and European Cup (now Champions League) runner-up in '75 that began play 89 years ago. "It seemed like no matter who we played, they were referring to some sort of historical incident that made this game a big game every year. There's enough that goes on with these teams year after year to give fans enough reason not to like the other team."
The presence of
That reference always embarrassed him, and since soon he could be playing with the real thing, he has set his sights on grounding his teammates however and whenever possible.
"It's probably one of the biggest factors I realized playing in England, the culture of the team is established very quickly, and it always starts from the top, with the most experienced guys," says Lewis, who will be 35 in May, the same age as the most recent signing, defender