VANCOUVER, BC – It hasn't been the season Vancouver Whitecaps FC striker Darren Mattocks envisioned after his explosive start to MLS life as a rookie last year.
After a campaign in which he scored seven goals from 15 starts and added a playoff marker against the eventual MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy in Vancouver's first-ever playoff game, this year some would say he has taken a step back.
Anticipated to lead the line for the 'Caps, the Jamaican started the first four games, notching just one goal, and has since found himself on the outside looking in.
While injury problems have impacted his availability, most recently a knee problem which required minor surgery and kept him out a month, the reality is that when fit, Mattocks has found it difficult to surpass the dynamic attacking trio of Kenny Miller, Russell Teibert and Camilo on Martin Rennie's depth chart.
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Still, there have been glimpses of the quality he showed in his first professional season. The speedster came off the bench with 14 minutes to go against the Seattle Sounders on July 6 in a 2-0 win and scored a cracking effort in the club's first ever victory over a Cascadia opponent.
He picked up his knee injury in the following match as a late substitute in a 3-1 win against the Chicago Fire, coming on with just two minutes to play – but in his return from action over the weekend, showed plenty of promise with some lively runs during his half-hour run-out off the bench in Vancouver's 2-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids this past weekend.
“I think he looked sharp when he came into the game,” Rennie told reporters on Monday. “We know he's a good player, we know he's got a lot of ability and he's got great pace. It was one of those nights where their goalkeeper made some great saves.
“He was one-on-one maybe four times I think, and [Colorado 'keeper Clint Irwin] came out on top. That doesn't always happen, but that's what happened to us on Saturday – but I thought Darren did well when he was on.”
Given the importance granted to qualifying for the MLS Cup playoffs and the postseason itself, in comparison to other soccer leagues around the world – should Mattocks finish the season strongly and perhaps contribute to a playoff run, his slow start and injury troubles will be but a footnote this season.
“It's really good going forward for me mentally,” Mattocks said of his strong play off the bench over the weekend. “When I get my chances, I just need to make full advantage of them. If it's scoring a goal or creating an assist, or just making an impact on the game – that's going to change the outcome of the game to get us a 'W.'”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.