Can Porter revive Mattocks' club career in Portland?
Ever since head coach Caleb Porter came to the Portland Timbers from the University of Akron in 2013 the Timbers have been a landing spot for Porter’s Zips alumni. Sure enough, during just over three years in Portland, Porter has acquired many of his former Zips, including Ben Zemanski, Steve Zakuani, and Zarek Valentin.
But Darren Mattocks always proved elusive.
At least until Monday, when the Timbers acquired Mattocks from the Vancouver Whitecaps in exchange for 2016 targeted allocation money, plus general allocation money and an international roster spot in 2017.
Mattocks and Porter won an NCAA title together in 2010 at Akron. Alma mater aside, however, how does the 25-year-old Mattocks fit with Porter’s Timbers?
After a dreadful 2015 season with the Whitecaps - one in which he scored three goals in 22 matches - the conventional wisdom around MLS is that Mattocks’ once-promising career is in danger of hitting the skids. But as poor as Mattocks was north of the border in 2015, he was great for Jamaica, scoring six goals in 14 caps for the Reggae Boyz lat year, including Gold Cup tallies against the United States and Mexico.
Throughout his four years in Van City, Mattocks spent time as a winger on both sides, as a striker and as a second forward. Of those positions, Mattocks was perhaps most comfortable in a two-front alongside the occasionally healthy Kenny Miller.
In Mattocks, the Timbers have acquired a versatile, if enigmatic attacking piece that has plenty of pace to burn but goalscoring form that comes and goes.
Far from the high-pressing, possession-oriented approach Porter’s Timbers famously displayed in 2013 and 2014, the 2015 Cup-winning Timbers were known more for their tactical balance than their stylistic dogma. In fact, by last fall the Timbers had fashioned themselves into a vicious counterattacking side.
And if Portland’s season-opener against that same Columbus Crew team they beat in MLS Cup 2015 is any indication, this 2016 team is being built very much in the image of their yesteryear counterparts, as the Timbers dropped in to let the Crew have over 60 percent of the ball, but countered the daylights out of Gregg Berhalter’s side to win on opening day.
The Timbers’ attack in that game roughly approximates what Portland wants to do going forward: Look to get out on the counter and, if the opponent gets their lines set, use Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe and Fanendo Adi to break the other side down centrally.
With his pace, Mattocks can surely help the Timbers on the break. Those chances, shown in the above graphic, which the Timbers are creating with passes originating around midfield? Those could very well be passes to Mattocks as a wide forward oin a 4-3-3 or as a center forward flaring wide to ignite the counter.
With the addition of Mattocks, then, the Timbers – already blessed in the pace department with the likes of Dairon Asprilla, Lucas Melano and Nagbe – look like they could put together a 4x100-meter team that could blow the rest of MLS off the track. And that’s significant for a team that likes to play in transition as much as the Timbers.
But by far the bigger challenge for Caleb Porter has been when teams drop deep and dare the Timbers to break down blocks of four. As attractive as their central buildup can be, the Timbers have struggled when teams have the luxury of being able to drop their lines and nurse a scoreline, as the San Jose Earthquakes did this past weekend after the Timbers spotted the Quakes a pair of first-half goals. And as a result, the Timbers became very narrow and ultimately lost, 2-1.
In this situation, however, Mattocks’ forward instincts are unlikely to add width to a Timbers team that can be dragged into a central quagmire. So while Mattocks may reinforce the Timbers’ counterattacking strength, he isn’t ideally suited to cover their attacking weakness.
Except that, once in a while, the Jamaican does something like this:
Despite his massive frame, Adi is better with the ball at his feet in holdup play than he is as an aerial threat. Although his aerial prowess isn’t necessarily the hallmark of his game, Mattocks’ athleticism makes him a threat to get his head to virtually any ball sent into the box and, once in a while, pull a goal out of nothing.
The Timbers have placed a medium-sized bet on Mattocks. Although his acquisition cost probably wasn’t all that great, Mattocks’ reported 2015 compensation of $272,000 isn’t insignificant.
Portland’s front office, therefore, has bet a fair bit of cap space on a player whose fit within the team isn’t quite ideal, and whose form has fluctuated. But if Porter can reignite some of that Akron magic and draw out of Mattocks what he still provides for Jamaica, the Timbers’ wager on Mattocks could look very, very smart.