Darren Mattocks still has a ways to go to prove to his doubters that he has the commitment to make a meaningful impact in 2014.
But his rehabilitation from the malcontent fringe player of 2013 to becoming the exciting and irresistible player who dazzled the league rookie season took a few more steps forward Sunday.
This, after his poor 2013 season and bizarre offseason comments critical of the club cast his future with the Vancouver Whitecaps into doubt only months ago.
Scoring a goal and claiming assists on two others in Vancouver's 5-1 rout of Jamaican side Portmore United on Sunday at Portland's Rose City Invitational preseason tournament, Mattocks displayed not only the swagger which has never left, but the goods to back it up.
Yes, it was the preseason, and Portmore United – who hail from Mattocks' hometown – played the majority of the match with 10 men after the referee dismissed goalkeeper Jacomeno Barrett for handling the ball outside of the area 14 minutes in, but there was a willingness to work on display, which simply wasn't there consistently last season.
“He was keen to do well, obviously, against Portmore,” Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson told reporters following Sunday's match. “You could see – he blasted, he did it in the game against [the University of Victoria in a preseason friendly on February 16] as well – he blasted one over from five yards.
“I said to him at halftime, 'Just have a little bit more guile about you. You might get one chance.' He had four chances and scored no goals [in the first half], and he had one chance and he scored one goal [in the second half].
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“The big thing there is, he took information on board from me at halftime, and he got his reward. And then he set Russell [Teibert] up again for the second goal. Darren's in a good place at the moment, and it's important that me and the coaches continue to keep him in that good place.”
That lineup Robinson fielded on Sunday is expected to comprise the core of Vancouver's starting lineup on March 8 against the New York Red Bulls, so Mattocks' inclusion is surely a good sign for the player.
And if the speedster plays at the level he showed at moments Sunday throughout this coming season, it could be good news for the post-Camilo Whitecaps era as well.
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.