Off Pitch is the occasional blog from Roustabouts member Roger Graham. Follow Roger on Twitter at @rogman99
Cristian Mata grew up playing the game he loves in his hometown of Tulsa. Mata, a 2012 graduate of Tulsa’s Union High School, amassed 70 goals and earned Oklahoma’s Gatorade Player of the Year award his senior year of high school. His jaw-dropping stats and goal-scoring ability were noticed by several colleges. Despite that attention, Mata decided to stay close to home and play at the University of Tulsa. Mata continued adding goals in the college ranks. He started 19 of 20 games as a freshman and would go on to record a team-high 14 goals. He followed it up with a sophomore season at TU where he started another 19 matches, racking up 10 more goals.
Regrettably, the University of Tulsa’s academic standards began taking a toll on the striker. “Things didn’t go right for me. Unfortunately, I had a bad time with my grades,” said Mata. He would leave the Hurricanes after his sophomore season in 2014.
After leaving the University of Tulsa, Mata attended a try out for the Seattle Sounders MLS club. “It’s a try out they have every year and I was selected to that [Seattle’s Academy Team]. I gave that a shot, as well, and nothing really happened.”
At my age, I knew I could still play
Meanwhile, in the fall of 2014, during what would have been Mata’s junior year of college, the Tulsa Roughnecks FC were a team in name only. They were still months away from signing their first player. Hopes of playing professionally seemed to be dwindling for Mata. He stated, “I wasn’t playing for a while and had to help out with money. I got a job and I knew it wasn’t something I wanted to do (long term). At my age, I knew I could still play.” Mata’s luck would soon change, once the Roughnecks started playing soccer.
“I got an opportunity from a former coach.” Mata recalled. “He knew I was a good talent and that if I got back out there, I could maybe help the team. Luckily, he talked Coach [Irving] into giving me a chance. I was able to work for about two weeks with the team and everything went right from there.”
Mata was signed on June 25, 2015, to join the Roughnecks during the mid-season. He didn’t wait long to make a splash in the league! That same night, Mata would make his debut as a second half substitute versus Sacramento Republic. Down 2-0, Mata weaved his way past two defenders and netted a right-footed shot in the 71st minute. “It was a great moment for me! I was just hoping to get out there and get into my rhythm. Luckily, I got a goal. Unfortunately, it was a bad result [Sacramento went on to win], but getting out there and getting a goal was a good experience.”
There’s no other place that I’d rather be
Mata would go on to become an integral part of Tulsa’s offense. He started in 13 of 15 matches, scoring 6 goals for the season (including 2 in a match versus Real Salt Lake on August 13th in Tulsa). It brought him a sense of pride to do so in front of his family and friends (the 9-1-8 boys, as he calls them). Mata summarized by saying, “I moved here when I was 9 and saw the day-to-day life here in Tulsa. There’s no other place that I’d rather be.”
Cristian Mata re-signed with the Roughnecks for 2016. This season, he hopes to get Tulsa to the playoffs and to score 10-plus goals the year. Mata could be headed for a banner-year, so it looks like the Roustabouts will have a lot to celebrate. We’ll get the smoke bombs ready!
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