What is it about tournaments that brings out the best in Darren Mattocks?
The jet-heeled attacker has had more than his share of ups and down in MLS since the Vancouver Whitecaps made him the second overall pick back in the 2012 SuperDraft. After leading the ‘Caps in scoring with seven goals as a rookie – topping MLSsoccer.com’s “24 Under 24” along the way – he’s yet to match that total in the five-plus seasons since, plagued by injuries, inconsistency and the occasional controversy now and again.
If Mattocks had grown up in the United States or Canada, we’d have spent the last few years drooling over his gifts and upside, much like with Freddy Adu or Mattocks’ Portland Timbers teammate Darlington Nagbe. Remember the time he literally jumped over his defender to score a header? They sure do north of the border:
Despite his clear and prodigious levels of talent, however, his relationship with the Whitecaps eventually soured, and he rather quietly moved to Portland last year, where he’s generally been limited to a reserve role. Perhaps, some have wondered, the blue-collar kid with the head-turning hairstyles was a one-trick pony, a speed merchant lacking the varied skillset required at the professional level.
But something changes for Mattocks in tournament play, particularly when he dons the gold and black of Jamaica. Maybe it’s simple coincidence, or the different landscape of international soccer. But in the compact confines of an event like the Gold Cup, where every minute takes on added significance compared to the long grind of a full club season? Watch out.
He was the leading scorer for Caleb Porter’s 2010 Akron Zips side as they won the NCAA national championship. He scored the first MLS Cup Playoffs goal in Vancouver’s history. He scored in the final of the 2015 Canadian Championship, the only time the Whitecaps have won that tournament.
Two years ago Mattocks scored the opening goal in the Reggae Boyz’ 2-1 shock upset of the United States in the Gold Cup semifinals. He came off the bench to bag the consolation strike in their 3-1 loss to Mexico in the championship final.
And on Sunday evening, he lashed home one of the most enjoyable goals of this first week of Gold Cup play, corralling a cross from his fellow MLSer Kemar Lawrence and cracking a sidewinding half-volley past Curacao goalkeeper Eloy Room to clinch Jamaica’s 2-0 victory.
Sure, we can argue about whether his first touch was a poor one – but you can also contend that a more typical player might not be quick enough to latch onto Lawrence’s fast-running service in the first place.
Some goals just feel more satisfying for the scorer, and usually inspire a similar feeling in the spectator. Mattocks hit that ball about as hard and as cleanly as one possibly can – and with his weaker foot, no less. How many of you watching at home savored the tactile oomph of that net billowing out to full stretch like I did?
No extra points are earned for such an emphatic finish, of course. But Mattocks’ chest-thumping celebration could serve as a useful point of inspiration for a Reggae Boyz side that looked downright disinterested in the opening stages of this affair.
We humans are often quick to mock and dismiss those with great potential who struggle to fully maximize it, as Mattocks has to date. “Brazil is a country of the future – and always will be,” goes the famously cutting saying often attributed to Charles de Gaulle, and something similar could be said of the 26-year-old who hails from Portmore, one of Jamaica’s tougher communities.
But there might be a few more chapters in this story. Few players embody the fierce yet joyous Jamaican spirit to the extent that Mattocks does, and if the Reggae Boyz are to surprise us all again this year, he’ll probably have a lot to do with it.
And that might just make the Timbers, and MLS as a whole, a more fun place this season.