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Reis is keeper of the flame

Veteran goalie at brink of milestone

Matt Reis, a steadying force on the Revolution, needs one win for 100 in his career. Matt Reis, a steadying force on the Revolution, needs one win for 100 in his career. (File/Getty Images)
By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / May 2, 2012
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FOXBOROUGH - However long it takes, Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis can wait.

He had to do it from the moment he walked through Major League Soccer’s doors as the Los Angeles Galaxy’s third-round pick 14 years ago.

At that point, he was more of a luxury for the Galaxy - a player capable of starting, but actually just an understudy to their full-time keeper, Kevin Hartman.

Hartman collected honors like Boy Scout badges, including 1999 Goalie of the Year, and the whole time all Reis could do was watch.

“It’s frustrating,’’ Reis said. “But it’s also motivation.’’

Reis was traded to New England in 2002, and when he got here, he again had to wait, this time behind Adin Brown.

It took two more years for Reis to get his first shot at being a full-timer.

He was 29 by then, and had been in the league for seven years. But when the chance came, he snatched it.

He has been a rock for the Revolution ever since: 261 games (256 starts), 23,140 minutes, 1,015 saves.

For the past month, he has been sitting on 99 career wins.

As the still-jelling Revolution (2-5-0), who host the Colorado Rapids Wednesday night, try to figure things out, Reis’s patience has been something the team has leaned on.

“For the first seven years of my career, I didn’t play at all,’’ Reis said. “So knowing in the back of my mind that I was good enough and just wanting to prove it and being able to stay healthy for as long as I have and being able to put up numbers is something at the end of the day you look back and you say, ‘I’ve set the mark and other people are going to come after it.’ ’’

Only five goalies in MLS history have reached the century mark in wins. Reis practically gave them a seven-year head start.

“It’s been a long seven years,’’ Reis said. “I always said that if I sat seven years, I wanted to try to play seven years, and I’ve kind of got that.

“Now the game is so much fun, and you know in the back of your mind that you’re not going to be able to play forever, so now it’s just enjoying the moment and enjoying every time you have a chance to go out and play.’’

When Reis was behind Hartman, they were friends from their UCLA days but also rivals. Hartman is at the top of the MLS wins list with 174. He also has the most shutouts in league history (107). So even though Reis finally got the chance to step out of Hartman’s shadow, he realized it reached farther than LA.

“If you look at the person I was sitting behind, he was No. 1 on all the lists,’’ Reis said. “Kevin and I had a great relationship from college to the pros, and I think we pushed each other quite a bit.

“I think me pushing Kevin helped him to get where he is. And I think once I got my chance, I knew I wanted to prove to everybody that I was just as good and that I could help teams win games.’’

As soon as he got to New England, the motivation was to establish himself. Now, after 10 seasons, he is the locker room sage, the one whom players such as defender A.J. Soares drift to for advice.

“I sit next to him in the locker room,’’ Soares said. “He knows what to do going into every game and so he’s always giving me little tips here and there. I’m trying to up my game so I can help him with his game. He’s been a big-time leader as far as helping me transition with the league.

“Obviously, we want to get him all the recognition we can, because he really is one of the top couple players in this league. Matt’s right up there at that level.’’

All but 17 of Reis’s career wins have come with the Revolution, and the milestone he is approaching is a testament to his longevity.

He has had injuries (surgery on his shoulder, knee, and ankle), and even though he knows a younger goalie is waiting to take his place, he is not budging.

For the first time since 2008, he has played every minute through the first seven games of the season. He has been the victim of tough luck in recent weeks, giving up just five goals in the past five games, with 18 saves, but with just two wins to show for it.

He stopped five of the six shots fired at him Saturday in a 1-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls. The one that got by was a well-crafted Thierry Henry original. But after that, Reis did everything to keep his team in it.

“He was our best player on the field the other night for the first 15 minutes,’’ coach Jay Heaps said. “He made two huge saves. I think that if we don’t have Matt, maybe it’s not 1-0 at that point, maybe the game is something that we can’t get back into.’’

Reis’s personality makes him a special breed, and he knows it.

“Everybody says that goalkeepers are all a little crazy, and you kind of have to be to have someone trying to kick the ball as hard as they can about three feet away from you,’’ he said.

Once, when Stevie Nicol was still the coach, Reis saw an episode of “The Office’’ and couldn’t help getting inspired.

He took the coach’s cleats, put them in Jell-O, and kept them in the refrigerator.

It’s on the list of Reis’s greatest hits.

“I used to see it all the time,’’ Heaps said. “I could come up with 10 more of those if you want.’’

Soares said of Reis, “Funniest guy ever. He’s nuts. He’s a lunatic. He’s real crazy, man. He’s the kind of guy you want to hang out with off the field.’’

Beyond that, Reis is the one they all want in the locker room and, more importantly, in the net.

“He definitely brings a calm and ease to us in the locker room and on the field,’’ Soares said. “He’s a really great leader.’’

The milestone had almost slipped Reis’s mind until someone brought it up.

Glenn O’Connor, the team’s massage therapist, told Reis he was thinking of getting a jersey with “100’’ on it.

It would be hard to find someone in the organization who isn’t looking forward to seeing Reis hit the number.

“It’s something that eventually - hopefully sooner rather than later - is going to get passed,’’ Reis said. “Hopefully, there will be a lot more.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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