He's the best player under 24, a highlight reel maker and a likely finalist for the Rookie of the Year. Darren Mattocks is a pure athlete with one of those physiques that fit into any sport. In this case he happens to play soccer really well.
Mattocks most often is used as a lone forward up top. Unlike most single forwards in MLS he is not a bruising back to the goal type. Instead he wanders from touchline to touchline looking to use his burst speed from unexpected angles.
That's his heatmap against LA. He did not get many touches. That's one of the keys to containing Mattocks.
"You have to always be aware of him and always have communication with your outside backs and your other centerbacks because when he drifts all the way to the left side or the right side you don't want to be chasing him," Jeff Parke said after practice on Thursday. "You want to be able to pass him on and put yourself in good spots to defend and help the other players out in the back even the midfielder when he drifts back into them. It's important that you communicate and get a piece of him and get a knock in early on him because he's definitely fast."
Another key will be for the keeper to be very active off the line rather than count on the referee to make the call. Mattocks will spring free, waiting for an offside call will hurt Seattle.
"If he makes a run, a couple things happen: If the ball is there on time maybe he gets called offside. If the ball is there on time and he’s offside, but the referee doesn’t call it, then he’s in. And if the ball is there on time and his run is on time, then he’s there, as well," Sigi breaks Mattocks down after the same practice. "Two of those three things are very dangerous. You can’t rely on the referee and you have to make sure that you have an awareness of when he’s going and his timing and how much space behind. It takes awareness from your goalkeeper—he’s got to read it and be off the line—and it puts pressure on your defense because a lot of times guys are checking back, looking to hold the ball and bring others into play. It changes [their] offense because it becomes a little more hit and miss. It becomes either we’re in or the other team has the ball."
But one of the easiest ways to control a fast player who can beat any defender on the sprint is to limit service. Jeff Parke also noted this as a key, "You limit his space, you cut off the crosses so there aren't many of those and as I said get a bump in on him before the play starts so that he's a little bit thrown off and not getting a clear path and running start up to the ball."
That key may change how Seattle plays the most. It will force higher pressure from the midfielders. That look is not one that you see often from the Sounders, particularly if they have Zakuani and Rosales starting. But with Brad Evans on a wing and Tiffert able to slide to that other flank the defense in the central third should be stronger than it has been for some time.
To sum up;
- Limit service
- Keeper awareness
- Backline communication