Mattocks takes on leadership role
Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer
MONTEGO BAY, St James:
The precocious talent of striker Darren Mattocks always promised Jamaica's Reggae Boyz much. Yet, before the past week, it has delivered mostly tease.
Mattocks' speed, power, and goalscoring touch made him a local high school and college football star. But returns of three goals in more than a dozen internationals raised more concerns than confidence.
Now, Mattocks, with a goal in each of Jamaica's three games at the CFU Caribbean Cup, is finally emerging as a reliable force. His explosive form here has reignited hopes. Yet he, all along, saw it coming, despite a lukewarm third season in Major League Soccer (MLS).
"I couldn't expect anything less," Mattocks said shortly after netting Jamaica's second goal against Haiti on Sunday, which secured a 2-0 win, the Boyz' place in today's CFU final against Trinidad and Tobago and next year's CONCACAF Gold Cup.
"I put up standards for myself, and my teammates have been providing me with the service," said Mattocks.
Sunday's goal followed equally clinical strikes against Martinique last Wednesday and Antigua and Barbuda two days later. Teammates and coaches have noted Mattocks' gradual shift from a brash youngster, who occasionally irked some with flamboyance and appetite for the spotlight, to a player honing his craft and demeanour to better fit the team concept.
Rough edges remain, but finally, Mattocks appears ready to fill a gaping void, which has left the Boyz vulnerable since the likes of Onandi Lowe, Walter Boyd, and Paul 'Tegat' Davis stopped roaming Jamaica's frontline.
"Mattocks's contribution has been massive," said national teammate Jobi McAnuff post-match Sunday. "... That's what we were missing - a real goalscorer."
Mattocks hardly lacks confidence. And, while the former Bridgeport High and University of Akron player's personality will never be totally revamped, with help from teammates, he's learning to temper his actions, buckling down to work harder and adapt.
"He's getting mature," explained Miguel Coley, assistant national coach to Winfried Schäfer. "He's recognising his strengths, especially his speed. He's understanding his role."
For Mattocks, that's generating goals. He supplied a lovely assist for Simon Dawkins' score against Haiti, and his off-the-ball movement and aggressiveness have been impressive.
At 24, and still green to the international game, Mattocks is embracing the mantle of leading Jamaica's charge from the front.
"I expect to be the goalscorer," he said. "I want to be that player they can depend on. I accept the role."
Mattocks has accepted some blame, too, for the Boyz' bumpy slide down world football's ranking. He's endured Jamaican fans' frustration. It's time, he argues, for a change.
"My main focus is to bring back that passion for football in the country," said Mattocks.
Jamaica's draw and two wins here turned jeers to cheers. There've been few complaints about the daunting task.
"Most of the players could find an excuse," said Mattocks. "But I think the guys know what's at stake. No excuses."
Armed with a scorer's mindset, Mattocks arrived here ready to sacrifice in a gruelling tournament, which has Jamaica and T&T playing four games in just over a week. He hit the gym early and often.
"As soon as we came to MoBay, I've been doing extra because I knew it wouldn't be easy," Mattocks said.
Today's prize is the Caribbean championship. Tournament failure could have sparked upheaval in Jamaica's national programme, placing scalps of players and coaches on the line. Now, despite a sore ankle, Mattocks doesn't plan to shortchange his backers.
"My team depends on me and I'm glad they're relying on me," he said.
He recognised the burden would come.
"From day one, expectations and pressure are on," said Mattocks.
Yet confidence by - and in - him appears to make the load lighter.
"The coach (Schäfer) believes in him," said Coley. "And he's responding to that."
Mattocks isn't about to shun the spotlight, but he's more than willing to share.
"At the end of the day," he said, "it's one team."