The 2002 World Cup is the gold standard for performances by the United States Men’s National Team in a World Cup. It had signature goals and memorable moments. One of them took place on June 10, 2002, when the USMNT took on hosts South Korea in their second group stage match in front of a sold-out, pro-Korea crowd in Daegu.
The USMNT were coming off an epic 3-2 victory over Portugal in their opening match, while South Korea was also sitting on a win after defeating Poland 2-0 to open group play. This was a major stage for both teams to assert themselves, and one player in particular made his mark.
Clint Mathis was one of the players whose inclusion on the World Cup roster was debated among American soccer fans and pundits. Were there better options? Why have Mathis on the team? In the 24th minute, he showed why. After some buildup by John O’Brien, O’Brien sent a ball over the back into the top of the box, where Mathis brought the ball down with his right foot, and one hop later, he smashed the ball home for the match’s opening goal.
“That’s why he’s here!” Jack Edwards’ famous goal call on the television broadcast rang out and is one that American soccer fans will never forget. Mathis, mohawk and all, celebrated in the corner with his teammates, and the magical run continued for the Americans.
They would eventually draw South Korea 1-1 and, of course, get out of the group, beat Mexico and go onto the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup. But on that day, Clint Mathis showed he deserved to be at the World Cup and proved it on the game’s biggest stage.