VANCOUVER - Darren Mattocks' hard-luck season has taken a turn for the better.
Having recovered from knee surgery, the speedy striker is slated to return to the Vancouver Whitecaps lineup Saturday as they visit the Colorado Rapids.
"Talking to the trainers and the coaching staff on what I've maintained, I think I'm ready to go," said Mattocks after practice Tuesday at the University of British Columbia.
Mattocks resumed training with the club this week after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery last month. The knee bothered him after a game against the Chicago Fire, in which he was a late substitute, and it swelled up while he was en route to a game with the Whitecaps reserves squad in Salt Lake City.
The club decided that surgery was the best option, and he underwent the procedure less than a week later. Now, the knee is feeling "pretty good."
"I'm at a really good level since coming back (to full training) a couple days," said Mattocks. "So that's really good. I feel even sharper than before (the injury.) So that's really good. But I think I've got a lot of work to do on getting back to match fitness."
Mattocks, a 22-year-old Jamaican international who starred at the University of Akron, led the Whitecaps with seven goals as a rookie in 2012. But the proverbial sophomore jinx that often occurs in hockey has also struck him in his second Major League Soccer season.
Due to his injury, inconsistent play and international duty, and the strong partnership of Camilo and Kenny Miller, he has started just six of the 13 games in which he has appeared. But crediting the team with providing world-class care and happy to be toiling in North America's top league, Mattocks said he has not been frustrated by his ordeal.
He took the same approach prior to the start of last season when arm burns, suffered in a cooking accident, delayed his pro debut.
"I grew up back in Jamaica, and I've been dealing with adversity for much of my life, growing up back then in my personal life," said Mattocks.
The Portmore native declined to discuss his struggles, and he is also not looking back on his ill-fated quest for 20 goals. He set the target in his sights at the outset of the season, without guaranteeing it would happen.
He just wants to work his way back into the starting 11, contribute some goals and help the Whitecaps (10-7-6) secure a playoff berth in the ultra-tight Western Conference. Coming off an impressive win over the San Jose Earthquakes last weekend, the Caps aim to continue on a strong run that has helped them leap over the playoff bar into a tie for second place with Colorado.
Caps coach Martin Rennie is looking forward to seeing Mattocks back in game action after he impressed in the weeks's first two workouts.
"He looked fantastic today," said Rennie. "That's probably the best training session he's ever had."
Meanwhile, captain Jay DeMerit continued to make progress from a torn Achilles tendon that has kept him out since early in the first game of the season. DeMerit is well ahead of schedule on his return from an injury that requires six to eight months of recovery.
He is close to returning after about three months off, but still a ways away from being game-ready..
"I've had another good week of training," said DeMerit. "The sharpness is coming on slowly but surely. It's actually been kind of funny, and kind of frustrating in my own eyes. You kind of get there pretty quick, but now the last fiver per cent of it takes the longest."
The 33-year-old Green Bay, Wis., native still hopes to return to the pitch before he weds retired Canadian Olympic ski cross gold medallist Ashleigh McIvor in her hometown of Whistler, B.C., later this month.
"We're monitoring (the recovery) very closely every day, and every day I'm getting stronger," he said. "But I can definitely say that I have some sharpness to work on."
Notes: DeMerit, central defender Andy O'Brien, Rennie and other Whitecaps left after practice to take part in the second annual Hope and Health soccer clinics for youngsters from Vancouver Island Coastal Salish First Nations in Ladysmith, B.C. McIvor also went on the trip to take part in opening ceremonies. … Whitecaps striker Kenny Miller will suit up for Scotland in a highly-anticipated friendly against England at Wembley Stadium in London on Wednesday. The two United Kingdom rivals have gone 14 years without facing each other.
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