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Matt Reis was number one

Posted by Julian Cardillo  December 11, 2013 10:05 AM

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(Italo Alexander Photography)

FOXBORO, Mass.- After a 16-year career in Major League Soccer and 11 seasons with the New England Revolution, goalkeeper Matt Reis officially announced his retirement at a press conference at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday morning.

Reis, 38, will be the Los Angeles Galaxy's goalkeeper coach starting next season. The Revolution offered Reis a position in the front office, but Reis, who is from Mission Viejo, Calif., ultimately chose to return to his roots.

A teary-eyed Reis said thank you to family, friends, teammates, and coaches and reflected on his long career. Revolution coach Jay Heaps, who played with Reis as a teammate, and Club President Brian Bilello both gave their regards to the most decorated goalkeeper in Revolution history and presented him with a framed poster highlighting his achievements.

"When you look at Matt across the spectrum, there's no other word but legend," said Revolution coach Jay Heaps of his player and former teammate. "He literally is retiring a legend for our organization, for the league. I don't see anyone coming along to replace that. You don't replace that."

“I have been truly blessed for the past 16 years,” Reis said. “I’ve been able to do something that I love – play soccer for a living. There have been many coaches who have influenced my development and helped get me to this point, and I have played with some fantastic players, many of whom are friends for life."

Reis is the Revolution's leader in most goalkeeping categories including games played in goal (242), games started in goal (241), minutes played in goal (21,702), goals against average (1.34), wins (86), saves (960), shutouts (61), and save percentage (72.1).

He is a four-time MLS All-Star and will finish his career in the top five of almost every league goalkeeper category including games played, games started, minutes played in goal, saves, and wins.

He retires after a career that includes winning the the U.S. Open Cup and Superliga, plus eight playoff appearances and four MLS Cup appearances with the Revolution. Reis started his career in 1998 with the Los Angeles Galaxy, where he also won the 2002 MLS Cup, CONCACAF Champions Cup, another U.S. Open Cup, and two Supporters Shields.

Reis was an alternate for the U.S. national team's 2006 World Cup squad. His first international appearance was a 0-0 draw against Canada in June of 2006. He was also the starting goalkeeper in Bob Bradley's first ever game as coach of the national team, a 3-1 win over Denmark on Jan. 20, 2007.

Though Reis played for the Galaxy for four years, he was the back-up to Kevin Hartman and only cracked the starting lineup 39 times. He was traded to the Revolution in 2003 for a draft pick.

“Trading for Matt Reis was one of the best acquisitions the Revolution has ever made,” said Revolution Investor/Operator Robert Kraft. “On the field, he was an elite MLS goalkeeper who set every career goalkeeping record in club history. He was a respected leader, both on the field and in the locker room, for more than a decade. He quickly became a fan-favorite and, for much of his career, was one of the faces of our franchise.

When Reis arrived in New England, then-starting goalkeeper Adin Brown was fresh off an impressive late season and playoff run in 2002 and retained his starting job through most of 2003. But when Brown's form dropped in 2004, Reis became the netminder on a permanent basis in former Revolution coach Steve Nicol's starting lineup.

A prime shot-stopper

Reis' most memorable saves have come in high intensity playoff games, though he was a consistently reliable shot-stopper no matter the setting. He almost always knew where the ball was going to end up before a player passed or shot and as a result, was always quick off his line.

One of Reis' biggest attributes, however, is his ability to save penalty kicks. In 2004, he became the first MLS player to save two penalty kicks in one playoff game, saving spot kicks from Tony Sanneh and Ross Paule against the Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference Semifinal to help push the Revolution through to the next round.

Those saves were no fluke. He saved two more penalty kicks in a shootout during the 2006 Eastern Conference Semifinals against Chicago, too. The Revolution went to the MLS Cup that year, losing in a shootout against the Houston Dynamo. In that shootout, Reis stopped one penalty, though the Revolution lost the title when Heaps had the Revolution's final shot saved.

But Reis' prowess in shootouts would eventually yield a title for the Revolution. In the 2008 Superliga final, against Houston, who had defeated New England in two consecutive MLS Cup finals, Reis made saves on three penalty kicks to help the Revolution clinch their second-ever trophy.

The Midnight Riders and New England Rebellion, the Revolution's two main supporters groups, made a chant in Reis' name that is sung every time he's in goal. It's shouted in The Fort to the tune of The Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" and asserts that they "dream of a team of Matt Reis" in which he wears numbers one through 11 and is the head coach.

Sometimes called "Batman without a cape", Reis has received league-wide recognition for certain performances in net, most of which are the playoff wins. But Reis received great praise for role in the second leg of this year's Conference Semifinal against Sporting Kansas City. In that game, Reis commanded his box and made seemingly impossible saves. When he came off the field after tearing his quadriceps, the entire MLS community responded by acknowledging the formidable game he played.

A key locker room member

Matt Reis has seen MLS grow from a 12-team project into a 19-team league that has established a viable reputation overseas and continues to expand to new cities and elevate the quality of American soccer.

That kind of experience is difficult to overlook. And one of the theme's that Heaps has touched upon repeatedly both as a player and coach has been the presence of Reis in the locker room.

“For me, it’s pretty simple: he’s not only one of the greatest goalkeepers in MLS, but also one of the greatest characters in MLS," said Frankie Hejduk, who was Reis' teammate both with UCLA and the U.S. national team. "He was the type of guy that brought the locker room together and he’s the kind of guy that any coach would want on his team. There’s a reason why he was at one club for so long and there’s a reason why guys like that are at one club for so long because he has a lot of respect."

Reis' humor is one of his most defining characteristics. Whether it was posing as Luis "El Lobo" Fangoso on April Fools' Day, or replying to someone with a quick, witty remark, Reis was able to help to balance seriousness and fun in a competitive environment.

"We always knew it was a special group of players," said Reis, who was the last player on the Revolution's roster who started in the 2007 MLS Cup final. "We knew between us we had something special. it's about having the right players and bringing them together. We had some amazing, amazing players. Winning those games, that's what you remember."

At the time of the 2007 final, the Revolution locker room was touted as one of the best in the league in terms of camraderie. The likes of Reis, Steve Ralston, Michael Parkhurst, Shalrie Joseph, and Jay Heaps gave the Revolution the best team chemistry in the league.

Once those players left, through retirement or transactions, the chemistry changed. Not having Reis in the lineup will almost certainly change the chemistry again, even if he isn't a field player. And there appears to be a general consensus that the locker room environment won't be the same again, either.

"As a guy who takes things seriously, probably too seriously most of the time, he kind of reminds us that this a game that we played as kids and it can still be fun even though it's a job," said defender Chris Tierney. "When things don't go your way sometimes it's difficult to come into a locker room but Matt does an amazing job of loosening things up and that it's a game and that it's fun and it's okay to smile once in a while."

"Matt brings a level of humor and wit to a locker room that will loosen it up," said Heaps. "When it gets tense and tight you need someone in the locker room like that. Timing is huge...being able to deliver at the right time is huge. Matt this year was sensational in that."

A mentor

The Revolution's goalkeeping statistics show that there hasn't been one player the club has relied on more than Reis in between the pipes. In some cases, his experience is numerically calculated to be exponentially higher than all of the goalkeepers in Revolution history, which includes Walter Zenga, Juergen Summer, Jeff Causey, Bobby Shuttleworth, and Brown.

And yet Reis has found the time and desire to teach younger goalkeepers, most notably Bobby Shuttleworth. There was a point during the 2013 season in which Reis was unsure if he'd ever reclaim his starting role after Shuttleworth started 20 consecutive games and commanded one of the league's best back lines while accruing a 7-9-5 record.

"I've never been one to hold any information back," said Reis. "It's a position where only one guy gets to play, so it's tough in that regard. It's usually only us three against everyone else on the team so we have to stick together. If I can pass any information along, I think it's just helped everybody get better."

A hero

Reis made his biggest contribution off the field this past April, when on Patriots Day, he helped save the life of his father-in-law, John Odom, who was injured when two bombs went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

In the midst of a chaotic scene in downtown Boston, Reis made a tourniquet out of sweat pants and wrapped it around his father-in-law's leg. That act helped save Odom's life. His actions on that day and in the aftermath of the tragedy earned him the 2013 MLS Humanitarian of the Year Award.

Reis has made 1,114 saves during his MLS career. But saving Odom was certainly the biggest save of his life.

"Outside of everything that Matt did on the field during his whole career, what Matt did for his father-in-law after the Boston Marathon bombing will be the greatest highlight of his life," said former Revolution striker and ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman, who played with Reis for eight years and attended the press conference.

"I'm proud to call Matt a teammate, but also more importantly, a friend.”

If you want to reach Julian email him at julianccardillo@gmail.com and follow him on twitter @juliancardillo

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About Corner Kicks: Julian Cardillo offers insight and analysis about the New England Revolution as well as European and international soccer.

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