Darren Mattocks put his hands on his head, staring at the linesman with his flag raised for offsides. The D.C. United forward had gotten on the end of a through ball, cut left past the diving Orlando City, S.C., goalkeeper and slotted home for what would’ve been Mattocks’ eighth goal in 11 starts this season.
It would’ve been the go-ahead goal in Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup fixture between D.C. and Orlando, in which United was ultimately eliminated in the round of 16. According to coach Ben Olsen, it should’ve been, too. Mattocks looked onside “from every angle.”
But the burst of speed and clinical finish, regardless if the goal counted or not, display what Mattocks has brought to D.C. in his first season with the club.
About a third of the way through the 2018 campaign, Mattocks has tallied a team-high seven goals in 10 league starts. With a larger role than he was offered with the Portland Timbers last year, the 27-year-old has already surpassed his MLS goal total from each of the past five seasons. Mattocks still feels he has more to offer.
“Still got ways to go, you know what I mean, but so far so good,” Mattocks said. “It’s all down to getting chances, and when you get your chances, like, you’ve got to take it. So far, I’m getting my chance and so far, I’m taking it.”
When Mattocks finished his freshman year at Akron, he heard D.C. was interested in drafting him third overall. The Portmore, Jamaica, native decided to return for a second season of college play because he felt he still had more to learn before turning professional.
After six seasons in the league with the Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland, Mattocks joined United via trade over the offseason.
“When Darren came here, it was with the understanding that he was going to be a starter,” Olsen said. “He was going to get his minutes, and I think Darren was excited about that opportunity.”
Since then, Mattocks’ 10 league starts with D.C. nearly matches how many he received with Portland each of the past two seasons. He has scored four goals in his last four league starts.
“When I spoke to Ben, he told me he’s going to give me a fair chance, and so far, he’s done that, and I definitely repay him,” Mattocks said. “For me, as he keeps giving me chances, just got to keep showing him why they were interested in me from day one.”
With United moving to add former England and international star Wayne Rooney, a 32-year-old striker, Olsen acknowledged there may be a shift in tactics or formation to accommodate the free-scoring Mattocks and Rooney. Mattocks said he isn’t focused on rumors, instead concentrating on the current team.
Mattocks could play as a winger, while Rooney also has experience as a central midfielder. Olsen, though, feels Mattocks is at his best playing as a striker.
“There’s certainly going to be some additions and then it’ll be competitive, and I know Darren’s up for the challenge of keeping a spot and keeping his form and doing what he does, whether it’s starting, whether it’s coming off the bench, whether he’s playing with another player,” Olsen said. “All these things are yet to be determined and in the now, up until this point, I think Darren’s really finding a nice groove and he’s happy. But there’s still more to Darren.”
After Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup defeat, D.C. has until June 30 before continuing its MLS slate. Through 12 MLS games, the fewest played of any team with the majority coming on the road as Audi Field’s construction concludes, United sits in last place in the Eastern Conference.
Mattocks will play a key part in any potential second-half push up the standings.
“Darren came in to preseason with us and had a great work ethic and he still does,” defender Steve Birnbaum said. “We’re happy that he’s scoring. He wants to continue scoring, we want him to continue scoring and we’ve got to do a little bit better job of holding off the leads once he does score.”