FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – “I’m not announcing that I’m running for senate or anything like that,” Matt Reis cracked as he stood before a crowd to announce his retirement from professional soccer on Wednesday morning.
It was an entirely appropriate ice-breaker from Reis, who was once voted the top practical joker in Major League Soccer. Humor was sprinkled throughout Reis’ press conference – it was only natural – but the 15-minute speech ran the gamut of human emotions as the 38-year-old goalkeeper reflected upon his career and thanked everyone from his family and parents to the food and beverage workers at Gillette Stadium.
“A lot of people think Matt’s a jokester,” said former teammate Taylor Twellman, who rearranged his travel schedule to be in attendance on Wednesday. “He’s a very emotional guy and you saw it. It was very difficult for him to put into words what his career meant for him and I think he did a wonderful job of trying to do that.”
Twellman was one of many former teammates to attend Reis’ retirement announcement as Revolution players young and old flocked to Gillette Stadium to honor his career. It was a testament to Reis as both a soccer player and a person, highlighting the impact he had on those lucky enough to know him personally.
“First things first, he’s just been so influential in my career here. It’s very difficult for me to imagine coming into this locker room and Matty not being here,” said Chris Tierney, who is now the Revolution’s longest-tenured player having joined the club in June 2008. “Thanks to him for everything he’s done for me. He’s such a great role model, not only for this club, but for the league.
“In terms of his career, I don’t know how much more you can really ask for. So consistent, so naturally talented, but also just the way he went about things. He brings a sense of fun and excitement to the locker room and kind of reminds us all that, at the end of the day, we’re playing a game that we played as kids. Although it is a job and it’s very competitive, it’s okay to have fun once in a while and lighten things up.”
Reis always had an innate sense for when the locker room needed a boost and was the perfect vessel to deliver a joke at the appropriate time. It seems simple enough, but timing is a delicate balance, and current Revolution head coach Jay Heaps said it was a vital aspect of the locker room culture.
“Matt brings a level of humor and wit to a locker room that will just literally loosen it up,” said Heaps, who has been a teammate, opponent and coach for Reis throughout the years. “When it gets tense and when it gets tight, you need someone in the locker room like that because timing is huge. It’s not like he’s doing it on game day or making a joke at the wrong time. Having a good wit, having a great sense of humor and being able to deliver at the right time makes all the difference.”
Humor wouldn’t have worked for Reis, however, if he didn’t back it up on the field. Luckily for the Revolution, Reis was not only one of the best goalkeepers in MLS history, but also one of those special players who managed to make everyone around him perform to the best of their ability.
“He’s a legend in the New England area. What he did here is remarkable,” said Twellman. “Those numbers will stand for a long, long time. But he was the perfect teammate in a locker room full of characters, because he was that guy that could crack the joke, crack the humor, but then also back it up with a big-time save.”
Reis was on top of his game right until the very end, going 7-0-4 in his final season to become the first goalkeeper in MLS history to go unbeaten while playing 10 or more games in a year. But it was Reis’ actions off the field – saving his father-in-law’s life in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings – which made 2013 perhaps the defining year of his career.
“It’s a pleasure, an honor to call Matt a friend,” said Twellman. “What he did for his father-in-law, what he did for (his wife) Nicole’s father; that’s hard to put into words. Because that’s ultimately what all of us are here to do is be a man for others, and Matt Reis was that. It’s an honor to call him a friend.”