VANCOUVER — The prediction was grandiose, to say the least, but Darren Mattocks is standing by it.
Heading into the 2013 MLS season, the Vancouver Whitecaps striker vowed to score 20 goals. But with Vancouver’s campaign two games old, he has yet to put the ball in the back of the net.
Still, as the Whitecaps prepare for their first road game Saturday in Houston against the Dynamo, he is sticking to his goals target.
"I’ve been sticking to everything since the day I was born, and I’m not going to change my mind right now," he said after a training session at UBC this week. "Obviously, it’s a long season and 20 goals (are) hard to come (by)."
The Whitecaps are unbeaten after two home games and a bye last weekend. Houston (1-1-0) is riding a 32-match home win streak that includes MLS regular-season and playoff games as well as CONCACAF zone Champions League play.
The hosts need just three more home wins to break Real Salt Lake’s record of 34 consecutive home victories.
Mattocks, 22, led the Whitecaps with seven regular-season goals and their lone playoff marker in 2012. But he has come under tight scrutiny from defenders in wins over Toronto FC and the Columbus Crew.
"I think I’ve been playing really well," said Mattocks, who has one assist. "I’m not getting many chances, but that’s (the life of) a striker. You’ve just got to be patient."
As Mattocks tries to get untracked offensively, the Whitecaps will aim to improve a road record that has been modest at best. The Caps did not earn a single road win in their inaugural MLS season in 2011 and, despite undergoing many roster changes, only managed to post a 3-10-4 record away from B.C. Place Stadium last season — while going winless (0-7-1) in their last eight away contests.
A road trip could be just what Mattocks needs, though. The Jamaican speedster scored five of his regular-season goals in visiting venues last season, while his two home goals came in a memorable 3-1 victory over Houston in June 2012. Mattocks also produced his playoff goal in the road, in Los Angeles.
Both he and Vancouver coach Martin Rennie believe road games give him more opportunities to score because, typically, the home team is more attack-minded and plays further up the pitch.
"He’s always dangerous, but I think he’s even more dangerous on the road just because he can get in behind (defenders)," said Rennie.
"Hopefully, I can catch them on the break," said Mattocks.
The Caps caught a break when the Jamaican national side did not call up Mattocks for a World Cup qualifying game Friday at home against Panama, even though he has represented his homeland previously.
Does the snub give him something to prove in Houston?
"Every weekend I go out there, I want to prove my point," said Mattocks. "It doesn’t mean I want to prove my point to anyone specific — but just to do what I’m capable of doing."
Based on his strong first-year showing, Mattocks is capable of doing more than he has displayed thus far. Rennie has been pleased with his play, but expects him to start scoring.
"I’m always looking for more," said Rennie. "Obviously, he’s a goal (scorer), so we’re always looking for goals and assists from our attacking players."
While the Whitecaps retained Mattocks this weekend, they have to do without Kenny Miller, who rejoined Scotland for Friday’s World Cup qualifier in Glasgow against Wales. Rennie said he has several candidates to fill the striker role in which Miller has excelled in Vancouver’s first two games.
"We’ll miss Kenny, but it will be a chance for someone else to step up," said Rennie. "And, if they do well, then obviously they put themselves in contention for the next game."
Depending how Rennie decides to configure his lineup, he could opt to utilize 18-year-old rookie Kekuta Manneh and fellow first-year midfielder Erik Hurtado in attacking roles with Mattocks. All three players possess dazzling speed, and played well together in the pre-season.
"I really like to play with those guys," said Mattocks. "So, hopefully, we’ll get a chance to play together on the weekend."
Brazilian midfielder/forward Camilo is also a candidate to replace Miller. Camilo, who led Vancouver with 12 goals in 2011 but dropped to five last season, has received limited playing time to date. He watched the season opener against Toronto as a reserve and toiled for just 23 minutes, while replacing Mattocks against Columbus.
"It’s not very good, because I didn’t play (much)," Camilo said of his season.
He battled a sore thigh and lost confidence in 2012. His left thigh bothered him again Tuesday, but he received treatment and made the trip to Texas.
"It’s just the coach’s option now," said Camilo, indicating his body and psyche have recovered. "When he puts me in, I have to do my best."
Notes: Omar Salgado, recuperating from a broken foot suffered last season, did not make the trip after hoping he would. The foot was feeling sore after he played in a friendly last weekend against the University of Victoria. Rennie said the team is being cautious and Salgado should return to action next week. a Miller has served as captain the past two games as Jay DeMerit recovers from a ruptured Achilles tendon. Rennie will hand the captain’s arm band to an as yet undisclosed player an hour before game time.