Mattocks helps Akron fill holes
Zips reload after losing seven players from last year's squad
After winning the school's first NCAA championship last year, Akron soccer program was hit extremely hard by the Major League Soccer draft. A record-breaking seven players -- only two of which were seniors -- were lost to the professional ranks, leaving head coach Caleb Porter a challenging task ahead.
While Porter and his staff immediately began filling the gaping holes in his lineup with a mix of freshmen and transfers, he also knew he would be relying on his four returning starters, especially sophomore striker Darren Mattocks.
"We knew we had a daunting task in reloading guys," Porter said. "I think we put together a good young group, but I knew our four returning starters would be the key to this year. I knew out of those four guys that Darren was probably the one that would make us go. I knew we could win games if he could produce so we put a system in place that would highlight him."
Porter, who was recently appointed the head coach of the U.S. U-23 Men's National Team, has coached his share of talented players, and knew from the moment he saw Mattocks play, he would be one of the best.
Mattocks grew up playing soccer in the streets of his hometown of Portmore, Jamaica, about 15 minutes outside of Kingston. He did not play an organized soccer game until the age of 14 when he realized he had a special talent for scoring goals. From then on, Mattocks began making a name for himself in the soccer world. He became the all-time leading scorer at his high school in Jamaica, and after having a stellar senior season Mattocks got a call to join the nation's senior national team program.
"The level of competition and talent was pretty amazing," Mattocks said.
Porter also heard about Mattocks' talent. The Zips' head coach was in need of a striker after losing Teal Bunbury to the MLS draft. Bunbury had scored nation-leading 17 goals for the school's 2009 squad that lost the NCAA title game in penalty kicks.
"We heard he was scoring goals and exactly what we were looking for," Porter said. "It took me about five minutes to realize he was the guy we needed to have. He was absolutely electric. He could run like a deer and could score goals."
Mattocks was so impressed that Porter had flown to Jamaica just to see him play that he agreed to visit the campus back in Ohio.
"Coach (Porter) actually flew down to see me in Jamaica, and I thought that was pretty amazing because he is one of the top coaches in the country," Mattocks said. "That showed me a lot about his confidence in me."
Although he was not too fond of the cold weather, Mattocks made an immediate impact for the Zips, leading the team with 18 goals and 41 points as the program posted a 22-1-2 record and claimed the NCAA trophy. He garnered Freshman All-America honors from several publications, and was named the Mid-American Conference Newcomer of the Year in 2010.
"At any given moment there is a chance to score and you have to take it when it comes," Mattocks said.
With the offensive scheme now shaped around Mattocks, this year's version of the Zips has also been successful, compiling a 12-3-3 mark and No. 7 national ranking. Again, Mattocks has been a huge producer for Akron with 18 goals and 39 points, but Porter says it is the leadership skills that he believes are most impressive.
"I'm very proud of his evolution as a player," Porter said. "Last year, he had 18 goals but he still had some things to learn. He's really improved his leadership. We named him a captain and I never thought that would happen. He sets the tone and example on the field, but also in the locker room trying to hold people accountable. That's one of the biggest reasons why we're doing so well."
"It's amazing to play with a player of his caliber knowing that he can change the game at any moment," junior midfielder Scott Caldwell said. "He can change the game in so many ways. It gives you a boost of confidence knowing he is on the field with you."
Porter says that over the past year Mattocks has picked up on nuances of the game that make him a more complete player. He has learned to play a role, and has worked on the defensive side of the game.
"I've learned so much about the game (since I've come to Akron)," Mattocks said. "I've learned how to work hard, stay hungry and stay focused. I've grown tremendously not only as a player, but I've also matured as a person. I am much more aware and disciplined on the field. I'm really thankful for that."
But while Mattocks may be more disciplined now, Porter still loves his striker's ability to create scoring opportunities.
"A lot of times in our country we're too organized," Porter said. "There's too much coaching. When there's too much coaching and organization, you lose a little creativity. Part of the reason we recruit overseas is we want to find that player with imagination and creativity that has developed by playing in the streets.
"You need to have guys that can break the can open individually and how you normally develop those qualities is by having a passion for the game. Darren brings a passion and hunger for the game."