You won’t find sophomore slump in the Jamaican lexicon – at least not in Darren Mattocks’ vocabulary.
After a successful rookie season in which the speedy striker bagged seven goals in 21 league appearances and added a playoff marker against the eventual MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy, Mattocks says Year Two is going to be even better.
“No chance,” said a laughing Mattocks when asked about the possibility of second-year struggles. “I think for me, it’s going to be the same or even better this season. There are more guys to help me going forward, I’m much more comfortable up top so I think it’s going to be more goals this season.”
Just how many goals? The 22-year-old is never one to shy away from ambitious targets, and his aspirations for the upcoming season are predictably – but perhaps fairly – lofty, given he missed around two months of action in 2012 following a cooking accident in which he suffered severe burns to his shoulder.
“Without injury or without cards or mishaps, I think I can get 20 goals this season,” Mattocks said. “I would like to make the All-Star team – but I think those are goals I know I can do. The biggest thing to do is to keep working hard.”
With his elite speed and superhuman standing jump, Mattocks has all the physical tools to become one of the best strikers in MLS – but one area he admits he’d like to continue improving is his movement. The Portmore, Jamaica, native says he’s spent plenty of time this offseason watching the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – not for their moves while in possession, but their off-the-ball runs into space.
“That’s something that’s very difficult to teach,” Mattocks said. “It’s something they have to work on day in, day out, and eventually you’re going to see it in your game, and I’ve been working on it in past seasons and it’s been bearing fruit for me.”
But Mattocks has suggested his output could improve due to the arrival of a pair of newcomers – No. 4 and No. 5 SuperDraft picks Kekuta Manneh and Erik Hurtado – both of whom have the wheels to keep up.
“So far in preseason it’s been the biggest advantage for me going forward,” Mattocks said of his new teammates. “Last season I was isolated – teams could double team me, so to have those two guys on the flanks, it really helps me a lot.
“It’s not just about me getting forward or getting in behind – they have two more guys to worry about getting in behind, so that’s much more space for me and space for those guys, so it’s going really well.”
So well in fact, Mattocks scored an incredible three goals in fifteen minutes to get preseason going in a 4-1 win over the New England Revolution – one of which was assisted by Manneh – and added a second preseason goal in a 2-1 win over the Houston Dynamo four days later, which Hurtado helped set up.
Amidst all the February success, Mattocks has noticed a bit more attention – but the tighter marking could help the team overall, according to the player.
“Preseason is going really great,” said Mattocks. “Teams are going to pay more attention to me, but if I keep working hard and I keep doing all the good things, everything should be taking care of itself … if there are two or three guys trying to mark me out of the game, that means other guys are going to be open, and that’s going to be a win-win situation for me and the team – and that’s exactly what we want.”