Sixty seconds. A mere sixty or so seconds was all it took for rookie forward Darren Mattocks to make his mark. After a few sub appearances and one pedestrian start in 2012, Mattocks came into the game against the Timbers on May 26 at JELD-WEN Field in the 83rd minute, smashed home an equalizer in the 84th—his first career goal in MLS—and led his Vancouver Whitecaps home with a stolen point.
Mattocks steals a draw for the 'Caps
Mattocks continued his season with six more goals for a current team-leading total of seven on the year, displayed on at least one goal a vertical leap worthy of Superman, and, most recently, received a call up to the Jamaica national team.
Across the field from Mattocks on Saturday for Portland will be a former teammate in Darlington Nagbe (7:30pm PT, ROOT SPORTS, 750 AM The Game / La Pantera 940 Presented by KeyBank). Once a fearsome tandem on the University of Akron’s 2010 NCAA Championship squad—a team that also featured current MLS'ers Perry Kitchen, Zarek Valentin, and Kofi Sarkodie—Mattocks and Nagbe led a highly talented attack. That season, Mattocks led the Zips with 18 goals and four assists—as a freshman—while Nagbe had 7 goals and led the team with 14 assists.
Both #2 overall MLS SuperDraft selections—Nagbe in 2011 and Mattocks in 2012—the two players now find themselves being counted on to provide creativity in attack for their respective sides.
How the pair will be able to ignite their teams brings us to Timbers soccer analyst Robbie Earle’s KeyBank Match-up.
When asked about his ex-Zips teammate Mattocks, the complimentary Nagbe had this to say, “He has a lot of energy and pace. He's electrifying. He's one of the fastest guys I've ever played with.”
It is that sudden burst of speed that Mattocks possesses that the Timbers will need to be most aware of. The young forward will look to unlock the Timbers backline with slashing runs and utilize his incredible athleticism. Though centerbacks David Horst and Hanyer Mosquera have an obvious height and muscle advantage, they will need to be constantly aware of the slippery and dangerous striker.
But it is not as though Nagbe isn’t blessed with incredible technical skill himself. With two goals in his last two matches, Nagbe has been displaying a productive selfish ruthlessness on the ball that Portland has enjoyed in attack.
Nagbe heads home the equalizer vs. TFC
Second on the team in goals with five, the second year midfielder/forward has also been adept at helping move the ball forward quickly and efficiently. Set in the middle behind a target striker, Nagbe has been given the freedom to move about the midfield in trequartista-esque type role. Also armed with speedy wingers in Franck Songo’o and Sal Zizzo, the trio looks to head directly into the attacking third thus keeping defenses pinned back and reactive.
It is a tactic that Mattocks knows as well.
“He's going to look to stretch the defense,” said Nagbe who knows of what he speaks. “When he gets on the end of things and he gets isolated, he can get at guys.”
With all the potential fireworks housed within both players, add to the fact that with a Cascadia rivalry match it has what Timbers defender Kosuke Kimura called earlier this week in training a bit of extra “heat." The clash of creativity may come down to who can perform most effectively at the key moments.
As Nagbe so succinctly put it, Mattocks will “try and do his best and I'm going to try to do my best. I'm just going to go out there and try to win it for the team.”
Come Saturday night, we’ll see just who is able to provide the biggest spark.