Age at MLS Cup: 31
Hometown: Hilliard, OH
I have a lot of favorite people I have met in all my years in or around the Crew organization. Goalkeeper Matt Lampson, who is in his second stint with the Crew after initially signing as a homegrown player for the 2012 season, is certainly in that group. He’s hilarious, generous, and just an all-around interesting person to talk with. Also, he’s cantankerous in the most magnetically funny way. You always have to be on your toes when conversing with Matt. That’s what makes it fun.
Over the years, Matt has gone well out of his way to help me share hilarity with Crew fans. Most notably, some of you may recall his epic narration of the oral history of the Crew’s 2013 preseason outing to Medieval Times. I had interviewed all the guys who went on that excursion, but Matt said he’d rather send me an email. What arrived in my inbox was a billion percent more than I ever could have asked for and it perfectly tied the whole thing together. I recall another time when a Crew fan asked me what Matt’s spirit animal was, and after an “argument” over whether a fan truly asked or if I was just making it up as an excuse to bother him, Matt agreed to answer the fan’s question and sent me not only his top five spirit animals, but uproarious rationales for his selection of each one. (For example, in his commentary on the grizzly bear, Matt noted, “I have been known to attack people who encroach on my space or food, and digging through trash cans in Alaska is my favorite hobby.”) Back when I was working on the tribute book about Kirk Urso, Matt gave me a hand-drawn image of a white falcon to include in the book, using his artistic talents to augment one of the amusing Kirk tales contained therein. He later presented the drawing to Kirk’s parents.
Matt is someone who has used his platform as a professional athlete to help others. Diagnosed at 18 with Stage IVB Hodgkins Lymphoma, Lampson beat cancer and now dedicates considerable time and energy helping other kids with blood cancers via his Lampstrong Foundation. The mission of The Lampstrong Foundation is to provide difference-making financial, emotional, and motivational support to cancer patients and families in all the stages of cancer treatment and recovery and to fund proven cancer researchers. One of the more visible aspects of Matt’s endeavors is when he will greet a Hero after each game, bringing a young cancer patient onto the field to talk with him or her and to pose for photos. I’ve seen Matt do this after wins or losses, good games or bad games. It’s the most important part of the night for him and he is always one hundred percent present and engaged. There’s a reason Matt is a three-time MLS Humanitarian of the Year award winner.
Oh, and he’s good at soccer too. And he grew up going to Crew games with his parents, who are also terrific people. His favorite player back in the Horseshoe days was Mac Cozier because of his hair. It’s crazy to think that this blog post is about Josh Williams talking about Matt Lampson, and both of them were attending Crew games in 1996 while in elementary school. If you went to a Crew game back in those days, you might have sat next to one of them or stood in line behind them at the ticket gate or concession stand, unwittingly sharing a moment with a future Massive Champion. Heck, maybe they even unknowingly ran into each other. Or a teenaged Tim Bezbatchenko.
Anyway, I am so incredibly happy Matt won MLS Cup with his hometown team. So is Josh.
THROUGH JOSH’S EYES
“Matt’s one of my favorite teammates ever. He’s known for being grumpy all the time. Have I told you the Aidan story? One of my favorite stories is that once a week, Matt lets Aidan hug him. It’s not a mutual hug. Aidan is hugging Matt with a huge smile on his face and Matt is just standing there with his arms at his sides. Aidan has this smushed smile on his face and Matt is standing there with the most annoyed look ever. Matt gives him about five seconds and Aidan takes all five of those seconds and just loves it. Then Matt slowly peels him off and moves on.
“He is just the most unique creature. He’s like the Yeti of the locker room. He’s just this unique, blurry creature that only allows you to see him when he wants you to see him. For instance, he allows one hour for us to spend time with him off the field. And when I say an hour, he literally sets the alarm on his phone and when the alarm goes off, and I am not kidding about this in any way, but when his alarm goes off, he literally starts saying goodbye. It almost feels like Kindergarten Cop. All the kids love Arnold Schwarzenegger. He’s this giant mammoth of a human and they’re all in love with him, but he’s just so annoyed by all of them. That’s how Matt is with us. So he sets his alarm and it goes off and he starts saying bye and we’re like the little kids grabbing at Arnold’s ankles in Kindergarten Cop and he’s just dragging them across the floor. Then he leaves and we all talk about how we don’t understand why he doesn’t like having fun. We all want to hang out with Matt so badly and he doesn’t want to hang out. I just think he’s hilarious. To everyone, he’s just the lovable grumpy guy.
“He loves donuts. He has an Instagram that’s basically for donuts. He tries them out in different cities and lets people know and kind of rates them.
“Like Boateng, Matt is also a shoe guy. He’s a pretty frugal guy, but he loves shoes and he’s always wearing different shoes, which is surprising since I think he’s been wearing the same wardrobe since he first came in as a rookie. His wardrobe consists of a few hospital scrubs, some animal print tees, which are a huge hit, some Lampstrong shirts, and then like one thousand different shoes. It’s really weird because you’d think someone who loves shoes that much would also like to have a complete wardrobe, but not Matt. In his mind, the shoes make everything, so he’s unique in that way.
“His mom is like the team baker. She must have ten ovens in her house that are constantly going because she’s constantly pushing out bread, cookies, Rice Krispy treats…it’s insane the amount of baked goods she can produce. She has some of the best banana bread I’ve ever had in my life. She has these coconut caramel oatmeal cookies that are my favorite cookie I’ve ever eaten. I’m not exaggerating. So good. Normally, you take one and leave the rest for the other guys, but with these cookies, I’m taking like three or four and have no remorse. It’s just a sea of gluttonous acts when these things get dropped off in the locker room. We’re all very thankful that she takes the time to do that for us.
“Matt is another one, like Jon, where he is constantly pushing himself. He’s a guy that loves the gym and lifting weights. He is constantly working on his body. He’s just a monster in the way he is built. When he comes to training, there’s a reason the guy has been in the league for as long as he has. He’s always ready. He’s always pushing himself. There’s never a dip in training. He’s another guy where if he is not the number one, he cares about the other guy, and he pushes that guy as well as himself, which elevates the guy in front of you. If that guy isn’t prepared to take the next step and to make that leap with you, you could eventually win that spot. I think Matt’s done that over and over in his career.
“He’s such a crucial piece to our team. Matt’s another guy on our team who fills his role, and when I say that, there’s a difference between filling a role and accepting it. Casually over the years, I have noticed if people accept these roles and start to become satisfied, the hunger starts to die a little bit. But if you’re not satisfied in these roles, and if you’re constantly thinking you should be the number one, then that hunger never dies. And I think with Matt and Jon and Tarbell, they were all constantly pushing Eloy this year. And you know, with COVID, in addition to injuries, you never knew who was going to get a chance to get in, so those guys were constantly pushing and elevating each other. Matt has such a big body and he’s decent with his feet now. He’s gotten better with his feet throughout his career. He’s just a complete goalie. On our team, we were so grateful to have four goalies who could step in at any moment and we would feel confident about them doing the role.
“When you spend time around Matt, you realize how much his foundation matters to him and how much he goes out of his way to help others. It’s just something where you have so much respect for a guy like that because as athletes, you know that after certain trainings or games, it’s hard to maintain a level in which you can provide happiness to people. After a game, you might be down. Maybe the team lost. Maybe you didn’t perform as well as you wanted. It doesn’t matter to Matt in this sense because he’s always willing to go the extra mile for his foundation and for the kids it helps. Right away, I think the locker room gets behind something like that. Easily once or twice a week some random guy on the team will be wearing a Lampstrong shirt. I think just being around him and him having so much passion for doing good things just builds an insane amount of respect for a guy who’s not only doing all that, but has been through all of it himself and came out the other side and made himself into a role model not only for those kids, but guys around the league.
“With Matt winning MLS Cup, I mean, it’s something I wish everyone who has ever come up through the ranks or had a personal connection to the Crew, especially former teammates of mine, I wish they all could have been there in that moment. I know it’s not a realistic thought, but at the same time, I hope a part of them was able to feel some pride and joy in the experience because I can’t even imagine coming up through the Crew academy. I was never part of that. But being a fan, and being at those early games, it’s still just a surreal moment. I think if you were to ask Matt, he would probably say the same thing. I mean, the dream is just making it on the Crew. The dream is to be on the roster. When I truly think about it, the wildest part for me was making it onto the Crew roster. That’s the dream. As you’re coming up through the ranks and you realize it might be a possibility to play professionally, and then you get on the Crew, which is your boyhood team…the thought of winning a championship never truly resonates. It’s almost too surreal to wrap into your dream. It’s like, ‘Making the team is crazy enough. I don’t want to push it.’
“I still don’t know how to feel because it’s something I never truly thought about actually happening. It’s so far outside what my dream consisted of. My dream consisted of wearing the jersey and representing the team. Until it happens where you win the championship, you don’t know what to think. And even after, you still don’t know what to think. I’m still trying to figure it out. I think Matt would have to feel the same way, but I don’t know that. He’s much more intelligent than I am, so he might have the right words.
“But just seeing him and having that friendship with him, and we both went away and came back to Columbus, so seeing him and hugging him after MLS Cup was different than a lot of guys just because we have that Ohio connection and have been teammates for so long. In that moment, we both knew you could only feel that certain way if you have the connection to the club that we have. So not only was it cool to hug him after the game because he’s such a good friend of mine, but because of that connection we felt in that we got to bring a championship to the city of Columbus and the club. It was the longest hug. I haven’t found video of it, but if I ever do, I’m going to have it on repeat around my house. I would designate a screen just for that.
“And I don’t think he let Adain hug him. I think he smushed his face and told him he already had his one hug.”
[NOTE: To see a clickable list of earlier installments of this Josh Williams series or other MLS Cup related posts, please click HERE.]
My latest book “A Massive Collection, Volume 1” is now available!
Paperback at Amazon.
Hardcover and paperback at Barnes & Noble.
Also, for those who like to support local businesses, signed paperback copies are available at Prologue Bookshop in the Short North.
If you wish to support my writing, please consider becoming a patron at my Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/SteveSirk