PORTLAND – When Fanendo Adi went down to a hamstring injury in Portland's win against LA on Aug. 6, it was an immediate blow to the Timbers. The initial thinking was that the striker would miss a few weeks – it’s been 10 games and counting.
With 10 goals on the season, the Nigerian was a key player for Portland at the time of his injury. The Timbers needed someone to step up and lead their forward line in his absence, and Darren Mattocks has delivered.
Mattocks came into the Timbers’ team eager to seize his opportunity. With three goals, two assists and some strong performances in nine starts since Adi went down, he’s done just that.
The Jamaican international saved his biggest moment for the season finale on Sunday, when he scored the game-winner in Portland’s 2-1 victory over Vancouver to clinch first place in the Western Conference for the Timbers.
"I always know what I’m capable of doing," Mattocks told reporters after Sunday’s win. "Sometimes you just need a run of games to get your confidence up, to get playing with the guys, and to get the chemistry going. Over a period of eight, nine games I just keep getting better and better and keep creating more chances for the team and getting the goal [against Vancouver]. Hopefully this continues."
Mattocks was selected by Vancouver with the first overall pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, but struggled to fully establish himself as a regular starter. He recorded just 19 goals and six assists in 93 regular season appearances with the ‘Caps before being traded in March 2016 to Portland, where he reunited with his college coach Caleb Porter.
Scoring on Sunday to knock his old team from first to third in the West and to deprive them of the 2017 Cascadia Cup was especially sweet for Mattocks.
"Definitely," Mattocks said without missing a beat. "Fantastic club, fantastic people, fantastic city. A well-run organization, one of the best in the league, but for me, I wasn't getting enough playing time.
"That's me being honest. I went to look somewhere else for my playing time because as a player, when you have ambition, you want to play and you want to perform. To come to probably their biggest rival and every time I play against them I seem to score."
By clinching the Western Conference’s top seed, Portland avoided the Knockout Round. They’ll begin the Western Conference Semifinals on Sunday or next Tuesday.
"We're definitely going to enjoy this one," Mattocks said. "We've got to be doing something right to win the West. Over the 34 games we were the best and that's massive. The goal, it's just to cap off a lot of hard work. Working hard for the team, it's massive for me.
"Now we're in the playoffs, I'll just continue what I've been doing... I wasn't here in 2015 when they won [the MLS Cup], so this is me writing my script and my chapter with this club."