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Jack: Mattocks maturing on and off pitch under Robinson

Kristian Jack

4/3/2014 11:59:41 AM

Despite not scoring a goal yet this season, Vancouver Whitecaps forward Darren Mattocks is a happy man these days.

"He is in a good place – his work rate has been fantastic and when centre forwards work that hard they will get their rewards and his are coming," head coach Carl Robinson told me.

The 23-year-old Mattocks has started all four games for the Whitecaps so far, coming off in both home victories, but when he has been withdrawn he has been a very active, lively member of the bench, cheering a team on that he finally feels a part of.

He told me: "We are playing really well, we just have to keep working on things, improving, making space for each other, do the simple things right and then getting the results.

"The simple things in soccer will make the biggest difference – everything else will then fall into place. The cohesion in the group right now is really good, we added not only some fantastic players but fantastic people...fun, loving guys and that's helped contribute to our success."

As Mattocks tells me about the winter additions he nods his head over towards Robinson in a way of recognition for what the Welshman was able to do before a ball was even kicked this season.

It is easy to see the relationship between coach and player is an important one.

Happy Mattocks + Happy Robinson = A focused player on the field.

When Robinson was given the job in December many saw his adoption of Mattocks as a negative storyline, with some expecting the Whitecaps to trade the inconsistent striker.

Robinson disagreed. He went to work on how to get the best out of the Jamaican immediately.

"He was one of the first phone calls I made, after I got the job. I know he has fantastic attributes, he lost his way a bit last year and I knew confidence was a problem with him because I saw in training what he can be, but didn't see it enough on a regular basis in games. If you are not playing, as a young player, if you are not handled correctly then you don't develop. I told him I would help him with this, I said it won't be easy but it was important for me to make his base stronger so he understands that he has support in different situations."

Robinson's 'Mattocks Project' was not exclusively about the player himself.

"I spoke to (Portland boss) Caleb Porter at the draft and he knew a bit about Darren's background and how he dealt with Darren when he was with him at Akron and I used that and philosophy and have taken his advice and it seems to be working. I have to say, he has come back with a renewed attitude and we are seeing the results."

Mattocks acknowledges he is different this season and doesn't think twice as to why.

"For him to take time for me, it says a lot for you as a player, of course, but also as a person because Carl knew me outside of soccer and that's really important. If you want to get more out of a player, perhaps some coaches take it for granted not knowing more about players outside of soccer, but Carl got to know me that way and that's translated now into our relationship back into soccer as well. It's a big confidence booster to know the coach has got your back, and is willing to play you game in, game out. We have a really good relationship."

When asked if that is what he lacked in 2013, Mattocks refuses to be drawn on last season and his issues with then-coach Martin Rennie, saying: "I mean, I wouldn't say it wasn't there – just some things were missing last year and Carl has taken care of that and helped me focus more on my game."

Despite playing sparingly under Rennie last year, the thing most people will remember Mattocks for last year was 'that' interview he did in Jamaica where he certainly didn't help the image of himself or his club.

Five months on, Mattocks says he has long since forgotten about it, saying: "I am an honest person, you know, it came out the wrong way and I take full responsibility for what I did, but it's long gone and I have looked past it. I have learned from it, it will never happen again and I just need to keep looking forward."

The Jamaican did admit that he prayed about the situation and leaned on his relationship with God afterwards.

"Faith is the biggest thing for me. I have always put God first in everything, good and bad. There are times when people go through some trials and tribulations but I genuinely believe that if you have faith in God and you are a strong believer, everything else will take care of itself."

During the off-season, Mattocks, who says he never goes out to 'party', spent a lot of down time with a small support group he trusts, including his girlfriend, mom and two elder brothers.

However, he didn't need time away from the game.

"I love soccer, I watch all the leagues but the Premier League is very big in Jamaica – they love it there – as a boy growing up there you dream of playing in the Premier League and hopefully, one day, I can play there but I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, for now I want to help this league grow and do my best for Vancouver."

Mattocks doesn't hesitate when asked about his favourite player, almost breaking away from his quiet tone to shout 'Steven Gerrard'.

"My favourite team is Liverpool. Gerrard is a fantastic leader and role model and I try to emulate him on the field as much as I can. It's been a great season, amazing and hopefully we can get the title, we have a pretty good chance."

We talk more about the Premier League and when we talk about when Robinson was playing at that level, his eyes widen in awe of his new mentor.

"He's a lucky guy eh? That's why he is really good as a manager because he is played there and in MLS and as a young coach he is really fantastic, I know he is going to be a really good coach for a long time."

As well as helping Mattocks to one day reach another level, Robinson has helped him get his passion back for the game.

"Firstly, I have to be grateful to God for giving me this opportunity and I need to thank God for giving me this talent but, to be honest, it is a fantastic feeling to play professional soccer game in, game out, it is great.

"I tell my girlfriend all of the time I just don't think I could do a 9 to 5 job, take nothing away from those who do it, but I am really happy with what I am doing and I am so grateful to God and I hope I continue to have success and making sure I do the small things right."

Now a Jamaican international goalscorer, Mattocks dreams of making it to the 2018 World Cup in Russia but his priorities for 2014 are firmly set on the ground in Vancouver where the maturation process continues to be in effect, on and off the field, as he learns from experienced players like Jay DeMerit, Kenny Miller and Andy O'Brien.

"They know what it takes, they have played at the highest level and they bring their leadership and experience but, importantly, they are so humble and it's a real credit to all of those guys that they want this club to grow. They are really even keel – they don't get too high or low and that's rubbing off on the young players, and it is most definitely, rubbing off on me."

A smiling Mattocks leaves the interview with a spring in his step. The only thing to make him happier would be a goal to ignite his season.

Oh, and a certain player lifting a certain trophy at Anfield in May.