He's been more of a luxury for Martin Rennie at this point, as Andy O'Brien has been patiently waiting on the sidelines for his chance to crack the starting 11 once more. Before he went down with a hamstring injury, O'Brien was the club's best defender and my choice for MVP, seamlessly stepping into a gigantic hole left by Jay Demerit and his achilles injury.
Well, O'Brien has been good to go for a couple of weeks now, and it's been a bit of a head-scratcher why he hasn't been inserted in the lineup quite yet. Instead, Rennie decided to go with Carlyle Mitchell at center back, a player that I was heaping praise on just last week. It wasn't a totally ridiculous decision; Rennie obviously felt that Mitchell's athleticism and quickness on his feet made up for his defensive woes, and would be a better fit against a quick Colorado Rapids club. While hindsight is 20/20, I think we can all agree that the move didn't pan out the way Rennie had hoped, and the club lost 2-0 on the road. Would Andy O'Brien have changed the Whitecaps fortunes? It's hard to say, especially because Colorado's second goal was a complete fluke that bounced in off Johnny Leverón. One aspect you know O'Brien would have improved greatly is his organizational skills.
While David Ousted has been very vocal in keeping his backline organized, they appeared to be chasing all night in Colorado and looked about as frantic as can be. While O'Brien clearly isn't as quick as Mitchell, he is far better defensively and he really knows how to take command of his fellow defenders, how to make sure they're in position when the chips are down. Ousted seemed to pick up that slack in the last few weeks, but it was lacking against the Rapids.
In a perfect world, Rennie would have a glut of center backs to choose from on any given day. For the elite teams in MLS, it could be a Demerit and O'Brien pairing. For more athleticism, the 'Caps could go Demerit and Mitchell, and if they're looking for a controlled, calm road match, what pairing would be better than O'Brien and Johnny Leveron? Also, Brad Rusin would be there. (I kid, he's actually become pretty solid this year)
However, with the season winding down and every match becoming so damn important, Rennie needs to go with the strongest lineup possible. On the backline, that simply means a pairing of Andy O'Brien and Johnny Leveron until Jay Demerit gets healthy. Once our Captain is back on the pitch (and all indications are it should be by the end of this month) then it becomes a little easier. Demerit and O'Brien pair together as center backs, while YP Lee and Johnny Leveron go out wide. It's an idea that's been brought up before by myself and people much smarter than me, and it should give the 'Caps the best chance to win.
While it may sound like I'm throwing Carlyle Mitchell under the bus, really, he's been great this season and has helped the club maneuver through plenty of injuries. However, the playoffs are fast approaching, and the Whitecaps still have a chance to keep climbing the Western Conference standings. If hosting a playoff game is going to be a possibility, it's time to let the big boy out of his cage.