By KEVIN KOCZWARA
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Matt Reis has been the heartbeat of the New England Revolution since he became the team’s starting goalkeeper in 2004. His importance to one of Major League Soccer’s founding franchises has been undeniable.
He’s lead the team through a period of unprecedented success in the mid-2000s, where he helped lead the Revs to three consecutive MLS Cup Final appearances, and through a rebuilding period that culminated this year with a return to playoffs. Reis has been a constant for the Revolution, and today he announced it was time to call an end to an illustrious career that spanned 16 seasons — 11 in New England.
Reis’ decision comes after what was arguably one his best seasons as a professional where he not only helped lead the Revolution back to the postseason for the first time since 2009, but one where he ended the regular season as the only goalkeeper in league history to go undefeated in 10 or more starts (7-0-4) and he posted a league and career best 0.72 goals against average.
Making those feats more impressive is that he accomplished them all with a heavy heart as he grappled with injuries and had to deal with a family tragedy that transcended sports.
“We made the playoffs because of Matt Reis. Simple as that,” Revolution coach Jay Heaps said about Reis’ final season at a press conference to recognize the goalkeeper on Wednesday morning.
Reis was at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15 with his family waiting for his wife to finish the race when he decided to move from where they were standing moments before bombs went off. Reis heard the blast and rushed back to find his father-in-law John Odom in pain, with blood coming from his leg. Reis acted quickly and took off his belt, wrapping it around his father-in-law’s leg and took off his jacket to to try and stop the bleeding, essentially saving his father-in-law’s life.
But the events in April were only part of Reis’s decision to retire. He said he had been contemplating retirement before that. His body was no longer healing quickly and his playing time had been cut by the emergence of Bobby Shuttleworth before the events of the Boston Marathon, forcing him to think about and plan for the possibility of retiring at the end of the season.
“Everything that happened in April and then not playing for a while, the body was starting to fall apart and bumps and bruises, as usual, were taking their toll,” said Reis. “We had been talking about (retirement) and obviously knowing it was coming.”
The final blow to Reis’s season came in the last game of the season for the Revolution. In the second leg of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series against Sporting Kansas City, the eventual MLS Cup champions, Reis was seriously injured in the final minutes of extra time.
Reis’ decision seemed like it was coming for a few months after the 38-year-old goalkeeper suffered a a quadriceps tendon tear that would prove the final blow to an illustrious career that started in Mission Viejo, Calif. and took him to UCLA, where he won a National Championship in 1997, then to the Los Angeles Galaxy and finally to New England.
Reis took the chance New England gave him to become the starting goalkeeper in 2004 after the team traded for him in the previous season.
When Reis joined the Revolution he had to wait one season before he became New England’s undisputed No.1 goalkeeper because the team still had Adin Brown. When Brown was injured in 2004, Reis took the chance and became a huge part of the team’s success in the 2000s under Stephen Nicol.
“What separated [Reis] from the other keepers in the league is that he’d make a save that meant something, whether it was to get your three points or whether to get you to a final or semifinal,” Nicol said in a phone interview. “He was a guy whose basics were superb, but had that little extra to make a save. And when you add on to it the type of character he is, it’s fantastic for the dressing room. He’s got a cocky nature, he’s always capable of taking the sting out of something, whether a defeat or building somebody up with a smart alec comment. He is just one of those guys who was really good in the locker room, particularly when things were tough.”
Reis didn’t relinquish the starting position after usurping it from Brown until the middle part of this season, becoming the Revolution’s all-time leader in goalkeeper appearances (254), goalkeeper starts (253), goalkeeper minutes played (22,697), goals against average (1.31), wins (93), saves (989), shutouts (66) and saves percentage (72.3). On top of his performance on the field, Reis also became one of faces of the franchise.
“Trading for Matt Reis was one of the best acquisitions the Revolution has ever made,” said Revolution Investor/Operator Robert Kraft in a statement. “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.”
Heaps had a unique perspective on Reis’s career. The former defender is the only player to ever have played against, with and to have coached Reis and he remembered not only Reis’ competitiveness on the field, but his ability to bring a locker room together with his patented wit and humor, which was on display during his retirement speech when he joked with people who showed up in support of him.
“Matt brings a level of humor and wit to a locker room that will literally loosen it up,” Heaps said. “And when it gets tense and it gets tight, you need someone in the locker room who will do that.”
Reis was coming off arguably his most accomplished and trying season as a professional, but he also won the 2013 MLS WORKS Humanitarian of the Year honor for his life-saving heroics and fundraising for a very special Boston Marathon bombing victim, his father-in-law, John Odom. He has routinely been recognized by the Revolution for his community out reach efforts and activism, especially for the Matt Reis Charity Golf Challenge, which has raised more than $350,000 for various charities. Those charities include the Boston Children’s Hospital, Grassroot Soccer, Multiple Sclerosis Foundation and the John Odom Recovery Fund.
“Off the field, he was a tremendous ambassador for the Revolution, participating in countless community events throughout New England and earning MLS Humanitarian of the Year honors this past season,” said Kraft. “We will miss his steadying presence on the field, his constant presence in the community and his quick wit in the locker room. We thank Matt and his family for their many contributions and wish them the very best in the future.”
Revolution President Brian Bilello said the team had offered Reis a chance to continue to be part of the franchise in the future in a community outreach and ambassador role. But it was announced Wednesday that Reis will join the Galaxy’s coaching staff as a goalkeeper coach while overseeing the coaching of the Galaxy Academy goalkeepers, a move that will not only bring Reis closer to where he grew up and to his family but to where his illustrious career began nearly two decades ago.