24 Under 24: #12 Slumping Darren Mattocks hopes to seize opportunity with Vancouver Whitecaps
VANCOUVER, B.C. – To say it hasn't been the second season Vancouver Whitecaps striker Darren Mattocks was expecting is probably a bit of an understatement.
Last year at this time, the Jamaican was flying high – his excellent showing saw him ranked No. 1 in MLSsoccer.com's 24 Under 24 rankings and senior players on the squad would confide their belief that it was only a matter of time until the speedy star would be off to Europe.
That confidence in Mattocks was well founded. With pace difficult to match and the capacity to execute plays of great athletic merit, he looked like the total package. Yes, there was the belief that there was a rawness to the forward's game that needed some refining, but the player's potential was obvious.
Scoring seven goals in 15 starts and then bagging a marker in Vancouver's lone playoff game – against the eventual champion LA Galaxy – there was the thought that the Whitecaps had a true star in the making.
WATCH: Mattocks scores vs. Sounders
He was also a good story beyond the field – his performances down the stretch came after the then rookie suffered a serious burn during a cooking accident. Unable to train as he was having difficulty sweating where he was burned, he missed the first eight games of the season, meaning when he did return he had to essentially complete a mini-preseason to regain fitness after his time out.
When he returned, he was dynamic, scoring a few poacher's goals mixed in with the spectacular – his absurd leaping header over then Toronto FC goalkeeper Milos Kocic on July 11 perhaps the pick of the lot. His excellent debut season also saw him called up to the Jamaican national team.
This season, however, something has changed, as he's played a peripheral role, scoring just three times in 16 matches. Mattocks still speaks confidently about his ability, but for various reasons he has found himself on the outside looking in, starting just seven MLS matches in 2013, partially due to international call-ups and a knee injury which kept him out for around a month.
WATCH: Mattocks' stunning leap vs. TFC
But mainly, it's been his inability to replicate his rookie season's form that has kept him out of the lineup.
“I wouldn't say complacency, but definitely at that point I was probably the No. 1 striker or the main guy,” Mattocks said of his attitude when returning to the squad for preseason this year. “Last season, I was scoring all the goals, and Kenny [Miller] and Camilo weren't doing so well, but this season Kenny and Camilo are scoring and I'm not doing so well.”
Indeed, some of Mattocks' struggles to get into the lineup this season have come down to the fact that at times the strike partnership of Camilo and Miller has been explosive. The duo has cooled off in recent weeks as the Whitecaps have struggled offensively with just seven goals in their last nine matches, but there was a time this year when Vancouver was among the league's top scoring teams, in no small part due to those two players.
That's not lost on Mattocks, and while he's happy for his teammates, he doesn't deny it has affected his ability to get into the team.
“No doubt about it, it certainly did,” Mattocks said. “It definitely limited my playing time for sure, and that's one of the factors, for me personally, that I'm not playing as well as I'm capable of doing.”
There are other factors too for Mattocks' sophomore slump. He would not be drawn when asked if he has been managed correctly this season by head coach Martin Rennie and his coaching staff, but in the player's defense, he has yet to start consecutive matches since starting the first four games of this season, where he picked up just one goal from those appearances.
WATCH: Mattocks' playoff goal vs. LA
Mattocks does concede without any sort of run of games to get into a groove, it's been challenging.
“This season it's been much more competitive,” Mattocks said. “Some strikers – especially as a young striker – two or three games go by and you don't score. But if the coach has confidence in you and gives you another two games, that's where you can score three or four goals in your next two games, and that can contribute to the rest of your season.
“But for me, as soon as you're in a game and you don't score you're on the bench. For me, personally, I don't think I've got enough chances to prove I can still do what I did last season. But I'm not blaming no one for that ... this season is a season where you have to make the most of your chances.”
But while the season at this stage will no doubt be looked upon as a bit of a stalling point for the player, Mattocks emphasizes his belief that if he gets a chance in the team's final six games, he will make a difference and if he does – can help change the perception of his season.
“This is an opportunity for me to seize and get back into the team,” Mattocks said. “If I get back into the team and score a couple of goals or just if the team wins – it can change the season entirely ...I think this is the part of the season where you have to make the most of your opportunities, and that's something I'm looking to pounce on.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.