24 under 24: Mattocks confident he'll set rookie record
Every now and again, a player comes along that compels even the stodgiest of supporters to get up off his seat.
In Vancouver, that player has arrived. His name is Darren Mattocks, the No. 1-ranked player in MLSsoccer.com's third-annual 24 Under 24.
And even though he’s not the finished article just yet, you’d be hard pressed to find a regular follower of Major League Soccer who doesn’t know who Mattocks is, despite the fact he’s only started 12 games for Vancouver Whitecaps FC in league play.
As for MLS defenders? They all know him now.
Combining electric pace, an incredible ability to leap, and an unshakeable swagger, the 22-year-old Jamaican has become the focal point of many a pre-game defensive tactical session of opposing teams.
Mattocks’ impressive debut season has surprised some, but not the coach who drafted him.
WATCH: Mattocks' classy finish vs. Colorado
“We watched him in college, and he has all the attributes to be a top player," Vancouver manager Martin Rennie said. “I rate him very highly.”
And for good reason.
Seven goals from a dozen starts over 17 matches is a haul most strikers would take. It’s an even more impressive statistic when considering that he missed eight games early in the year due to a burn injury.
That cooking accident, which left Mattocks in the hospital, would have been a perfect excuse for a slow start upon his return, especially given he wasn’t able to train properly during his rehabilitation due to in his inability to sweat correctly because of the severely burned right arm and shoulder area.
Instead, the pacy forward scored six goals in his first eight league matches back – in what were essentially his first MLS minutes (Mattocks played one minute in the season opener for what was technically his debut before the injury).
WATCH: Epic "Air Mattocks" goal vs. Toronto
However, he’s only got one goal in his last eight, so there will naturally be questions about whether defences have been able to figure out how to deal with Mattocks.
The man himself has no such doubts.
“I think there was one point when I went three games without a goal back in my freshman season,” Mattocks told MLSsoccer.com on Monday, referring to his time with the University of Akron. “The key for me to get back on the scoring sheet and being consistent from this point forward is to keep working hard.
“Since I’m back off suspension, I have no national duty for a while," continued the Jamaican international. "I think the team has finally gelled together in Vancouver, so now hopefully that can all be positive for me to get back scoring.”
Speaking of national team duty, Mattocks is hoping to draw upon his most recent run with Jamaica, in which he played 26 minutes as a substitute in his country’s famous 2-1 victory against the United States in Kingston on September 7.
WATCH: Mattocks silences Salt Lake
Not bad for his second-ever cap.
“Obviously, a World Cup qualifier is a very big occasion – it’s a very high-pressure game,” Mattocks said. “If we were down 1-0 in the first half or at halftime, I thought I’d get a shot. But we were up 2-1 in the second half and I came in around the 60th minute and did well.
“For me, it doesn’t really matter what age, but I want to be the starting striker for Jamaica. Whatever it takes, I’m willing to do.”
Still, as it seems with any precocious talent, there has been another side to Mattocks’ game that has made the headlines. Despite only playing 1,074 MLS minutes this season, he’s managed to pick up two red cards and seven yellows.
Some have hinted that it’s a dark side to his game, while others have suggested it’s mere clumsiness when it comes to the art of tackling and challenging for the ball.
WATCH: Mattocks is No. 1 in 24 Under 24
“I think some of the decisions which led to those sendings-off were unfortunate, especially the red card he received against [the Portland Timbers on August 25], but there are lessons to be learned,” Rennie said. “Ultimately, he needs to be on the field to score goals.”
Mattocks said in all of his time playing organized soccer, he’s only picked up one red card and three yellows before his time in MLS.
So perhaps it’s just a strange aberration rather than a sign of discipline issues.
One thing Vancouver will certainly be hoping is such an aberration is the recent mini-dry spell the lanky forward is going through, with just one goal in his last eight. But in typical fashion, Mattocks is confident this upcoming four-match home spell against Colorado Rapids, Seattle Sounders FC, Chivas USA and Portland Timbers will be a chance to score bags full of goals.
Rennie has already announced that Mattocks will start against the Rapids on Sunday vs. Colorado (4:30 p.m. PT - Sportsnet Pacific, Sportsnet ONE, TEAM 1410 radio, MLS LIVE).
“That’s how it goes sometimes – the best players in the world have times where they’re really hot or they’re really cold,” Mattocks said. “Hopefully, with four home games in a row, for me, I should be getting four or five goals coming up.”
If Mattocks' prediction is right, not only would he become the highest-scoring rookie in MLS history (Damani Ralph scored 11 in 2003), but Whitecaps FC, who are one of only three clubs with fewer than 30 goals scored this season, will be well positioned to become the first Canadian team to qualify for an MLS postseason.
There may be just five matches left in 2012, but Mattocks and Whitecaps FC are far from done.
Martin MacMahon covers Vancouver Whitecaps FC for MLSsoccer.com.