Not many MLS forwards could win a foot race against Whitecaps centre back Carlyle Mitchell. If the Caps had a 4x100 team, he’d be on it.
Perhaps even fewer could beat the tall Trinidadian blessed with basketball hops for a ball in the air.
But, at 25, Mitchell needs games to gain experience.
Wednesday, in a 2-1 pre-season loss to the Houston Dynamo at Blackbaud Stadium, Mitchell misjudged a long ball, allowed it to bounce, and Dynamo forward Will Bruin pounced on it and tied the game in the second half.
Things are suddenly crowded at centre back for the Caps, who on Tuesday added Honduran Olympic captain Johnny Leveron, 23.
With veterans Jay DeMerit and Andy O’Brien both back, and coach Martin Rennie adding American Brad Rusin in January, Mitchell is the odd man out.
The solution will almost certainly be to loan him to Edmonton of the second-tier NASL, where former Whitecaps assistant coach Colin Miller runs the show.
Miller was still coaching in Vancouver when Mitchell arrived from Trinidad and Tobago in Sept., 2011.
“I understand what they’re trying to do,” Mitchell said. “I’m young and it makes no sense that I’m on the bench. Martin and the staff are trying to find the best thing for me and that’s OK.
“I’m excited. I know Colin and we’ve got an understanding.”
While some have assumed that Mitchell’s international status puts him in jeopardy as the Caps approach a full roster, the truth is that the club is high on him.
He’s come a long way in a year. He looked out of his depth in a 4-1 loss at New England last May when Rennie left DeMerit at home to rest up for the Canadian championship and paired Alain Rochat and Mitchell in central defence.
Mitchell also started the 2-0 loss at Seattle in August, but spent most of his time in the MLS reserve league, where he led the Caps in scoring.
He gets up so high that he often gets a great look at goal off corners.
At one point in Wednesday’s game, he leaped up and over Dynamo forward Brian Ching. It looked like when Vince Carter dunked over that poor French guy at the Sydney Olympics.
Mitchell’s nerve for launching himself into crowded penalty areas took some time to come back after a nasty 2010 collision left him with 10 screws around his right eye. A titanium plate remains but the fear is long gone.
“It took me a while. I was scared when I came back, but everything’s OK,” Mitchell said. “I think my confidence has grown a lot from last year to this year. I got more time for my national team and that helped.”
It was Caps goalkeeping coach Marius Rovde who encouraged the club to take a look at Mitchell, whose experience includes CONCACAF Champions League games for former T&T club Joe Public.
Rovde was working in the T&T Football Federation as a technical director for goalkeepers.
“He’s developing well and he’s physically stronger than when he joined us,” Rennie said of Mitchell. “He just needs games.”
It was an old friend of Rennie’s who did in a young Caps side on Wednesday.
Adam Moffat, the Scottish midfielder and former Rennie player from the Cleveland City Stars, struck a 35-yard shot past Brad Knighton for the 2-1 lead in the 77th minute.
Forward Corey Hertzog had opened the scoring for the Caps in the first half on a terrible back pass from a Houston defender.
The finish was still challenging though. Hertzog, a former first-round pick of the New York Red Bulls, took a touch around the goalkeeper and rolled a shot off the far post and in from a tough angle.
“He’s got all the attributes to be a very good striker in Major League Soccer,” Rennie said. “I think he needs to believe that just a little bit more, which we’ll help him do.”
The Caps’ fifth-overall pick, winger Erik Hurtado, was also a bright spot in the first half. Hurtado, 22, showed off the speed and explosiveness that could make him a fan favourite.
Rennie worked several trialists into the game in the second half — Kenyan Crispin Olando, Jamaican Dever Orgill and Ghanaian Emmanuel Adjetey. Unsigned supplemental draft pick Adam Clement went 90 minutes alongside Mitchell, but there are few, if any, MLS spots up for grabs.
The Caps are still expected to add English veteran Nigel Reo-Coker to the mix, perhaps before the weekend.
Rennie will play a first-string squad against the Chicago Fire here on Saturday in their final tune-up before the March 2 season opener.
Rennie will also send a split squad to Carolina to play his former team, the NASL’s RailHawks on Sunday.
Vancouver is 5-0-1 in the pre-season.