News from Vancouver Whitecaps world that Jay DeMerit isn't making the trip to New England. After going for 90 minutes Wednesday against FC Edmonton it's possible that DeMerit's just tired, or that he picked up a knock. Either way, it doesn't sound like the New England Revolution will have to worry about one of our regular defenders.
The smart money says that Alain Rochat will play centre back and Jordan Harvey, who Martin Rennie has frankly inexplicable confidence in, will start at left back. However, I've never been one to be satisfied with the smart money and so I ask the question: what the heck is this team going to do with Carlyle Mitchell?
Have you forgotten about Mitchell? Couldn't blame you. His only action with the Whitecaps first team this year has come in 180 minutes of Voyageurs Cup. He arrived late last season, during the absolute worst of the Tom Soehn dog days, fresh out of obscurity in Trinidad and Tobago.
Mitchell's not a big name. Heck, before the season a few people thought he might be cut. But he has 331 career minutes as a Whitecap (all competitions) and probably 300 of them have been good. He's not large for a centre back but mobile and stronger than he looks. He's also only 24 years old, which should count for plenty on a back four which has two key players (DeMerit and Lee Young-pyo) well into their thirties and another (Rochat) getting awfully close.
Mitchell hasn't got much playing time. A lot of what he did get came in garbage time last season when, frankly, the games didn't count for much and an enthusiastic puppy would have looked impressive. But so far he's hardly put a foot wrong. He brings a good two-way sensibility, has surprisingly fair technical ability given his modest origins, and, on paper at least, ought to pair well with the tall but slower Martin Bonjour. Basically, he ought to do what Rochat does at centre back, therefore freeing the Swiss star to play his best position at left back and thus sending Harvey to play his best position at bench.
Martin Rennie's stuck with a fairly stable squad this year and has been getting results. But DeMerit's absense gives an opportunity for experiment. Sticking with the sub-par Harvey - Rochat left-side tandem won't work; we know how much Rochat hurts playing in the middle and we know how much Harvey hurts trying to play elementary soccer. Mitchell's done nothing but impress in his every opportunity. For heaven's sake, give Carlyle his chance.
In between ranting and raving at Jordan Harvey I do take some time to watch soccer. I have seen the occasional game, and Carlyle Mitchell is a useful centreback if anybody is. In fact, though it's hard to tell given the different levels they've been at, I would prefer Mitchell over DeMerit if you put a gun to my head.
Why do I like Mitchell? Because he's confident on the field without being arrogant. On the one hand he's not afraid to run with the ball and try some audacious passes, he loves to get forward at the appropriate times, and he plays good aggressive soccer. On the other hand he does all this without trying to overstep his bounds, trying to dribble the ball through an entire team, without yanking himself out of defensive position because he thinks he's a Premier League player among semi-pros, or making a bevy of mental mistakes which sometimes affect players of his calibre.
He showed very well late last year and was among Vancouver's better players in both Voyageurs Cup matches. He's also done exceptionally in the MLS Reserves: in a slightly hilarious turn a couple of weeks ago, after a series of injuries hit the Whitecaps Reserves forwards against Portland, Mitchell moved up top and significantly outplayed Atiba Harris in a cameo as a striker. He's also scored with the Reserves this year, although that was as a defender (a dramatic last-minute header off an Omar Salgado cross).
I fully understand keeping Mitchell out of the lineup so far in MLS: why fix what ain't broke, and the Bonjour - DeMerit tandem in the middle has worked out exceptionally. Notwithstanding what I said about preferring Mitchell to DeMerit, I don't think for a second Jay has played himself off the field and am happy with Mitchell as a substitute. But it's possible to take conservatism too far, and playing Harvey over Mitchell would do precisely that.