VANCOUVER, B.C. – For the Vancouver Whitecaps this season, center back has been a revolving door due to a slew of injuries.
But it seems like the last man standing may keep his place despite the return to contention of several big names for this Saturday's match against the Montreal Impact (2 pm ET; TSN/RDS in Canada, Univision Deportes in the US).
Carlyle Mitchell has been the only one of Vancouver's five central defenders not to miss time due to injury this season, and has arguably been the team's best player over their last two outings.
The Trinidad and Tobago international hasn't played a lot, figuring in just 10 contests, but has become more of a regular of late, starting five of the side's last seven matches.
Mitchell is athletic, dominant in the air and has elite speed, which neutralizes many attacks. In fact, preseason speed testing indicated he was tied alongside Darren Mattocks for second fastest on the squad behind only rookie Erik Hurtado.
But his progress this season from last year, when he was very much a fringe player, has impressed his coach.
“We always believed he was a very good player, an excellent athlete – one of the best athletes that we've got,” Martin Rennie told reporters this week after a training session at the University of British Columbia. “Our concern was his concentration and his passing, but his concentration has improved dramatically. His passing has improved a lot. I think he was 100 percent [last weekend].
“When he's doing those things, along with the attributes he's got – his ability to win the ball in the air, his recovery pace – then he's someone who can definitely be a starter for us.”
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Mitchell's chances have come about due to necessity, but he hopes to keep his place on merit despite the fact that Andy O'Brien and Johnny Leveron are both on the trip to Montreal after overcoming back and calf injuries, respectively.
“It's good progress,” Mitchell said. “I've been working hard in training, so the coach has decided to put me in [over the last few games] and I've taken that opportunity with both hands.”
Now Mitchell is just hoping he can keep possession of the shirt.
“The team is very competitive right now,” he said. “When you're in, you work hard. And when you're out, you work harder to get in the team.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.