After the Montreal Impact surprised everybody by taking Andrew Wenger with the first overall pick, the Vancouver Whitecaps have taken Jamaican forward Darren Mattocks from the University of Akron.
Mattocks is 21 years old, turning 22 in September. A well-built 6-foot striker, Mattocks is not as technically gifted as Wenger but is quick and scores goals in bunches: he scored 21 goals in 22 matches last NCAA season. The Akron Zips are renowned as a soccer factory and Mattocks's scoring numbers had him widely associated with a move to Europe prior to finally signing a Generation Adidas contract.
There's not much doubt about Mattocks's ability. He was considered clearly part of the top two of this draft class along with Wenger, and the only debate was over whether he's best or second best. I had him second, most of the world thought he'd be picked first, but unfortunately Jesse Marsch was not one of them.
So what does Mattocks bring? He was the most electrifying player in American college soccer last year, and as such he'll bring some balance to Vancouver's attack: the lightning (along with Camilo Sanvezzo and Long Tan) to go with Eric Hassli and Atiba Harris's thunder. He's not incredibly technical, but a schoolboy career in Jamaica and two years with the NCAA's best coaching mean that he's quite capable with the ball at his feet. As a Jamaican (and a likely bet to make their U-23 Olympic team), Mattocks will take up an international spot, which is a flaw for a 21-year-old sitting on the bench. And he does come into a lineup full of forwards.
However, you have to take the best player available. The Whitecaps have done that, and if they decide to lose a forward they're in a good position to wheel and deal. I'm disappointed Mattocks was the best player... but he indisputably was, and that's what matters.
The Vancouver Whitecaps have a lot of forwards now. Eric Hassli, Camilo Sanvezzo, and Omar Salgado are pure strikers along with Mattocks, while Long Tan and Atiba Harris have spent most of their careers on the wing (Camilo also played some wing last year, but it didn't go well). Given the Whitecaps' lack of depth on the wing, if Mattocks's selection allows the Whitecaps to slide Harris back to right-wing full time, then it helps the team. If Long Tan can help Michael Nanchoff as left wing depth because the Whitecaps know Mattocks is available as an attacking substitute, that gives us more tactical versatility. Even keeping this kid can help the team short-term.
Then there are the rumours of Vancouver losing their forwards: Omar Salgado's been linked to European teams forever, and Camilo is both dissatisfied with their contract and reportedly drawing interest from the Middle East. If one of them wants to go then having young, talented Mattocks on the depth chart suddenly becomes a very good thing.
The Whitecaps could always make a trade. Mattocks himself would probably have some value from around the league, and if Vancouver swaps him for a quality central midfielder then all of a sudden we're looking at a playoff spot. Maybe Tan could be sent to a team blinded by his exciting play for a useful asset. At the outside, perhaps Camilo, Hassli, or Salgado could be sent off as marquee parts of a major trade, although that's unlikely and probably not even desirable.
Of course, the Whitecaps could just hang onto them all. Why not? Mattocks, today, is vying with Long Tan as the most logical substitute for Camilo when the Whitecaps need energy and pace rather than the strength and powerful finishing of an Hassli/Harris type. Presumably Mattocks will also be getting time in the MLS Reserves. He'll certainly take some pressure off of Salgado, who's still 18 years old and too young to be written off but also had a seriously disappointing 2011 season.
Remember, early in the season when Tan didn't look like he was good enough and Harris was hurt, the Whitecaps were dying for forward depth. Relying on Harris to return to his early 2011 form when everything in his career suggests he's a squad player at best and he's coming off major knee surgery is nuts. Tan might be a late bloomer but still has a lot to prove and should probably be spelling Russell Teibert on left wing anyway. Mattocks has a chance to make a real impact in this lineup.
The Whitecaps have a few more options and a little more talent. That's the most you can ask from the SuperDraft.