Changing of the guard at Whitecaps
Changing of the guard: Whitecaps new hero Darren Mattocks is subbed by old hero Hassli.
VANCOUVER, BC ● When forwards Eric Hassli and Darren Mattocks hugged as Vancouver Whitecap fans cheered both of them during a late substitution on Sunday, it seemed symbolic of a greater transition underway on the Major League Soccer team.
Mattocks started Sunday and Hassli didn’t. Mattocks scored twice during a 3-1 win against the Houston Dynamo in which the Whitecaps looked as fluid, dynamic and multi-dimensional offensively as they have all season. And that may be because Mattocks looks to be everything that Hassli is not.
The 21-year-old Jamaican rookie is breathtakingly fast, never stops working and takes advantage of the space around him in coach Martin Rennie’s lone-striker system. Hassli is immensely gifted, but likes the ball at his feet, doesn’t cover much ground and rarely turns defenders without help.
Hassli is also wealthy, earning nearly $800,000 guaranteed as the Whitecaps’ “designated” marquee player. But that also makes his relegation to the substitutes’ bench more untenable in the long-term.
The second-year Whitecaps, now 6-3-4 under Rennie’s renovation, clearly are a team building towards something and a 21-year-old forward who can finish is a tremendous building block. A frustratingly mercurial 32-year-old like Hassli is not.
“I think they both can contribute a lot to our team,” Rennie said, trying to diffuse the implications of his choice to start Mattocks over Hassli. “The fact they’re different is actually a really big positive. Some games it will be more suited to the style that Eric brings, some games it will be more suited for the style Darren brings, some games it will be more suited for both of them to play together.”
Mattocks seems better suited to Rennie.
Whitecap Sebastien Le Toux is listed as a forward, but plays so wide and deep that he is essentially an attacking midfielder. Davide Chiumiento was the other wide midfielder on Sunday. Gershon Koffie, who set up two of the goals against Houston and was outstanding, pushes up from central midfield along with John Thorrington. But the striker up front, now Mattocks, still must do a lot of work on his own.
He has to make something from nothing. Several times Sunday, Mattocks did.
“The whole stadium can see it,” veteran goalkeeper Joe Cannon said of the dynamic Mattocks provides. “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].”
Mattocks was the Whitecaps’ first pick — second overall — in this year’s MLS superdraft. After missing the start of the season when he badly scalded his arm and shoulder in a cooking accident, Mattocks came on as a substitute and scored a late goal in a 1-1 draw in Portland two weeks ago.
Suddenly, he has three goals in two games.
“If you keep on working hard in training and stay focused, hopefully you get your chance,” Mattocks said. “I got my chance and took it. But I’ve got to realize this is one of many games and move past this really quickly and keep on working and stay focused.
“There are a lot of fantastic guys on the team. Anyone can be in the starting 11 at any point. That’s the depth of the Vancouver team. Once, you get your chance, you just have to make full use of it.”
Mattocks exudes confidence — and that was before he put Vancouver ahead 1-0 in the fourth minute on Sunday, shedding his check with a smart, zigzag run and converting an excellent cross by right back Y.P. Lee.
He made it 2-0 in the 66th minute, running behind defender Warren Creavalle and on to Koffie’s through ball before calmly slotting his shot past Houston goalie Tally Hall.
Mattocks could have scored others. He hooked a right-footer just wide from 16 yards and blasted wildly over the bar with his left after creating space for himself for Le Toux to find him with a 40-yard ball.
In the other football’s terms, Mattock has the speed to go deep.
“It does open up the game,” Rennie agreed. “Our possession was much, much better. At times, we passed the ball really well. Part of that is because there’s a threat behind the opposition so they can’t squeeze the game so much, and that helps us.
“One thing about [Darren] is he creates chances. He scored two today and he created four, five, maybe six chances. If he’s playing, almost every game he’s going to create something. And if he’s consistent with his finishing, he’s going to score a lot of goals.”
Doesn’t sound like he’s coming out of the lineup when the Colorado Rapids visit BC Place on Saturday.
Jordan Harvey scored Vancouver’s other goal against Houston, on a fine cross by Koffie that was misplayed by a Dynamo defender.
Macoumba Kandji scored Houston’s goal in the 83rd minute, briefly cutting Vancouver’s lead to 2-1.
“Wherever I go, I usually score goals,” Mattocks said of his quick transition from U.S. college soccer. “Obviously, you’re playing against much better teams. They’re physically tougher, they’re stronger, they’re quicker. But you keep going at it … and eventually you’re level is going to rise and you get even better.”
Imagine how good he could become.