Clint Mathis took the call and stepped outside his California office. The man who spent much of his career roaming opposing defenses likes to be on the move when he’s on the phone.
So he paced a bit while South Carolina soccer coach Mark Berson and athletics director Ray Tanner made small talk on the other end — before they came with the purpose of their call. That’s when Mathis stopped in his tracks.
“I got a little teary-eyed,” Mathis said, “a little choked up.”
Before Mathis played — and scored — in the World Cup and before he spent over a decade in Major League Soccer, Mathis starred for South Carolina. The two-time All-American on Friday became the first Gamecock men’s soccer player to have his jersey retired.
The news, recently delivered by Berson and Tanner, made Mathis emotional.
“This is where I really grew up,” Mathis told reporters Friday afternoon while he stood on the field at Stone Stadium. “I came from a boy to living on my own to trying to become a man. But it was also a situation where I had to learn responsibility of being able to go between school and sports, which is not always the easiest because of time constraints.
“It was a huge transition in my life to be able to really put me on that platform, to take that next step into professional sports.”
Mathis, a Georgia native, came to USC in 1994. When he left after 1997, he had 53 goals and 121 points. Both remain top three in program history. He was taken by the Los Angeles Galaxy as the No. 6 pick of the 1998 MLS Draft.
The goals and assists were great, but what Berson recalls most is the way Mathis responded to bumps in his career. Two ACL tears — one in college that forced him to play with a knee brace his junior season, one in the pros ahead of the 2002 World Cup — didn’t prevent success.
“Those are not insignificant injuries,” Berson said. “The guy just has a willpower. He overcame a lot of things. The key to his success has been, yeah, he’s got some flamboyance ... he made his own rules — that’s what he’s most remembered for — but not many people remember what he had to overcome to play. That’s a lot of work that goes on off camera.
“I think that’s a big part of who Clint is today.”
Mathis, 42, is married and has four kids. He lives in California, working in software. This visit to USC marked his first time back in at least 10 years. Several things looked different, but at least one memory remained — a 1994 win over Clemson.
“The stands were full, they were on top of the fence there,” Mathis said. “Probably had five rows of people outside the lines. That was back when you could stand on the sidelines. Just the support we had from our alumni and really getting to see what a true rivalry was in college, I’ll always remember that game against Clemson.”
And that night he had his USC jersey retired.
“I’ve had some pinnacle moments in my life,” Mathis said, “where I’ve said, ‘Hey, I’ll never forget this no matter how old I get.’ And this is definitely up at the top of that list.”
USC men’s soccer: Brian Banahan’s goal at the 51-minute mark was the difference in a 1-0 Gamecocks victory over No. 13 FIU on Friday night at Stone Stadium. South Carolina (7-8-2 overall and 2-5-0 in the conference) must wait out its bye week to confirm its appearance in the Conference USA Tournament later this month.
USC women’s soccer: No. 8 South Carolina (13-1-2, 7-0-3 SEC) finished the SEC season undefeated for the third time in four seasons with a 2-0 win over Auburn on the road Thursday. Elexa Bahr and Anna Patten scored in the win. USC is the No. 3 seed in the upcoming SEC Tournament in Orange Beach, Alabama, and faces No. 6 seed Georgia on Tuesday.