No one shuddered worse than I when it became apparent that Carlyle Mitchell would actually have to play some hard minutes for the Vancouver Whitecaps this season. A light, untested centerback trying to fill in for guys like Andy O'Brien, or Jay Demerit, or even Brad Rusin? A guy that couldn't crack the squad out of training camp and was actually loaned to FC Edmonton for a spell doesn't exactly scream 'future superstar', but things actually worked out pretty damn well.
While the 26 year old has appeared outmatched at times, he's quietly put together a string of solid appearances in which he has helped the Vancouver Whitecaps to victory. Don't believe me? The 'Caps are 4-0-1 in the five matches Mitchell has started, and while all the praise shouldn't be heaped upon the young man from Trinidad and Tobago, it's proof that he may have some game at the MLS level.
Let's talk about that game. Mitchell doesn't have the sheer size and strength of, say, Andy O'Brien, as he stands at 6'1" and just a shade over 175 pounds. While size is desirable in the centerback spot, Mitchell uses his speed and agility to his advantage, using it to scramble into position when need be. He doesn't have the Johnny Leveron cool and composed style of play, but exudes a level of confidence that you don't usually see from guys that have been on the sidelines as much as he has. Think Greg Klazura; we all want that kid to do well, but when he got his chance under the bright lights, he looked more like a deer in headlights than an MLS caliber defender.
In addition, Mitchell has proven that while his body isn't the biggest, he has absolutely no problem throwing his weight around on the pitch. He has an edge to his game, a physicality that you need if you hope to survive in MLS, or at the very least, establish yourself as an everyday player. Instead of shying away from that aspect of the game, Mitchell has appeared to embrace it with open arms, something that's made him a roster regular for Martin Rennie, just not a full-time guy, quite yet.
On the subject of Martin Rennie, it really speaks volumes about his confidence in Mitchell that when Andy O'Brien was very close to returning from injury, Rennie chose to let him rest for another match, and then started Mitchell in his place. That meant Brad Rusin was moved to holding midfield, by the way. In previous seasons, in a match with playoff implications, O'Brien may have been forced into action. Instead, Rennie showed he believed in Mitchell, and gave him a shot at showing off his stuff.
Now it should be noted that while Mitchell has been a pleasant surprise, he still has quite a ways to go in his development. His physical play is great, but he can get caught out of position when he's tussling with the opposition, and while he has the speed to recover if that does happen, it's not an ideal situation for a defender. He's aggressive in his play and will usually try and make the right decision, but his offensive instincts are still pretty suspect. He does have an assist on the season, but he appears to be far more comfortable kicking the ball away from danger rather than trying to advance play up the pitch. Some would say he has quick decision making, I would say he needs to slow down and examine the pitch a little better.
Carlyle Mitchell may never become a full-time 'Caps starter because of depth and the 'Caps willingness to go out and get guys during the off-season. Still, in the small sample size we've seen from him, it's not a total stretch to see him starting for another MLS squad down the line. Until then, I'm more than happy with Carlyle Mitchell as a depth option.