Darren Mattocks isn’t wasting any time making up for lost opportunities. So much so that he could be muscling one his more highly regarded teammates into a spot on the bench.
A little more than a month after returning from a cooking accident that left burns over much of his right arm, Mattocks tormented Houston in a 3-1 Vancouver victory at BC Place, scoring twice to record his third goal in two games and firmly putting his freakish setback in the past. (VIDEO)
And for the time being, at least, it appears the 21-year-old Jamaican has wrested the starting spot from Designated Player Eric Hassli, who has struggled to find his form in front of net.
At least that’s the word in Vancouver, where Mattocks' teammates came out in force in praise of their rookie striker’s all-around ability and explosiveness.
“The whole stadium can see it,” goalkeeper Joe Cannon said. “All of a sudden, a slip-up at the back, or a missed touch ... and it’s not only his speed. He has great jumping ability and he’s a great athlete. He just tracks things down and he works hard. He makes the defenders be honest and it’s great.
“I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg for him. With his speed, he’s just going to keep getting better. Nothing surprises me with him. I really hold him in high regard and it would be great to see him not only play here, but maybe move on [to Europe].”
Even more encouraging for the 'Caps was that another youngster, midfielder Gershon Koffie, was the man springing Mattocks for chance after chance, earning the assist on Vancouver's second goal and showing a creative spark that had captain Jay DeMerit hoping for more from the Ghanaian.
"Gersh has always been a fantastic prospect," DeMerit said after the match. "He's shown at certain times how good he can be, but tonight he put together a 90-plus minute performance and we talk about consistency and how players develop and that's a huge sign of development, when you can perform for 90 minutes and stay consistent. The bad thing for him is now that he's set that standard, so hopefully we can get that every week."
The Dynamo will surely know what to look for when they come up in the young Jamaican in the future. What they will want to avoid is allowing another early goal, one Dominic Kinnear said gave Mattocks the space he needed to continue to put pressure on Houston as the game progressed.
“When you go down a goal in the first five minutes of the game, it does open you up,” he told MLSsoccer.com by phone after the match. “We didn’t start the game so great and pushing up it created space in behind Darren Mattocks and he becomes a dangerous player.”
The only other MLS player in action on Sunday was the LA Galaxy's Robbie Keane, who endured a difficult day as Ireland fell 3-1 to Croatia in both team's opening game in Group C at the 2012 European Championship (HIGHLIGHTS). Other than a few scattered chances, Keane and the Irish found opportunities hard to come by, although the LA striker should have earned a penalty when he was taken down from behind at the top of the box. (VIDEO)
Thousands of Irish made the trip to Poznan to support the side, a fact that seemed to weigh on Keane after the match that will likely keep Ireland from advancing: "I'm gutted that we weren't able to get the result for the Irish support. They were in good voice as usual."
Next up for Keane and his teammates is Spain on Thursday in Gdansk. It will be an uphill battle to say the least, especially as the Irish desperately pursue a result after losing what one columnist described as "a sort of cup final for Ireland."
In Sunday's other game, Spain and Italy played to a thrilling 1-1 draw, with Antonio Di Natale giving the Azzurri a second-half lead before Cesc Fabregas tied the match just minutes later. On Saturday, Germany defeated Portugal 1-0 via a perfectly placed header from Mario Gomez, while the Netherlands fell 1-0 to the opportunistic Danes. (VIDEO)
France take on England in the early game this morning (11:45 am ET, ESPN), and co-hosts Ukraine and Sweden follow in the second game (2:30 pm ET, ESPN). Check out Grant Wahl's running diary at SI.com.
KickTV's Jimmy Conrad is also across the pond's for Europe's most prestigious national tournament, and took in Spain/Italy in the supporter's section of the stadium. Check out the fan cam set up for both sides to make their voices heard, and follow all the coverage from KickTV here.
Back in CONCACAF, World Cup qualifying kicked off for the US and Canada on Friday, with the Americans handling business against Antigua and Barbuda to the tune of a 3-1 victory and Canada defeating Cuba 1-0 on the road.
Read why the MLS Analyst says Oguchi Onyewu may be done as a starter for the US, check out the player ratings from the match and check out all the coverage following the US' first step in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Next up for Klinsmann's side is a visit to Guatemala on Tuesday in what should be a difficult test against Ever Almeida's side at Estadio Mateo Flores (10 pm ET). Defense will come first for Guatemala, while the US may have to play a fourth left back in four games after Jose Torres suffered a bone bruise vs. Antigua and Barbuda in emergency duty.
Still, the US knew from the start that qualifying from CONCACAF wouldn't be a straightforward task: “You can talk beforehand about, ‘This team is ranked this. This team is ranked that. This country has this many people. This country has that many people.’ It’s still, when you step on the field, it’s 11 against 11,” US midfielder Michael Bradley said following Friday's win. “You see it all around the world. On every single night, it doesn’t always go 100 percent to plan. That’s the reality.”
Canada will host a talented Honduras side on Tuesday (7:45 pm ET, Sportsnet) hoping to continue their perfect start in the group. While Olivier Occean basks in the glory of scoring the game-winner, one columnist tries to temper expectations ahead of a crucial match in Group C despite the Canadians' early success.
In other news from a busy weekend of soccer, Lionel Messi scored a hat trick as Argentina topped Brazil 4-3 in a thrilling match from MetLife Stadium on Saturday. (VIDEO)
Rumor Central: Boyd's move to Austria all but settled
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