Trinidad and Tobago international defender Carlyle Mitchell was without a club this summer after Joe Public FC withdrew from the TT Pro League.
But his stay in soccer No Man’s Land didn’t last long after his agent contacted him with some promising news earlier this month.
“I got a call from my agent saying the Whitecaps need a defender and (would I be interested),” he said. “I said of course. I would love to play for the Whitecaps.”
So the 24-year-old centre back signed a Major League Soccer contract with the Vancouver Whitecaps just before the Sept. 15 roster freeze and finally arrived in Vancouver late Wednesday.
Visa issues delayed his arrival and he had his first training session with his new club Thursday at Empire Field.
“As a footballer, your dream is to go higher and this is a stepping stone,” Carlyle said after practice. “MLS is a big step. It will be better for me and the national team.”
He joins several other Trinidad and Tobago internationals in MLS — including Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Chris Birchall, Philadelphia Union midfielder Keon Daniel, Columbus Crew defender Julius James, Sporting KC defender Daneil Cyrus and San Jose forward Scott Sealy.
“The intensity here is very high,” Carlyle said, when asked for his first impressions of play at MLS level. “I’ve seen the league on TV. It’s a great league with great crowd support and great media coverage. Everything is professional.”
The six-foot-one, 165-pound defender said he’s strong in the air and likes to keep play “simple.”
“I score off a lot of headers,” he said.
Whitecaps goalkeeping coach Marius Rovde, a former goalkeeping coach for Joe Public, said Mitchell showed great promise with the Trinidad & Tobago club.
“He has great speed and is extremely good in the air — a good old-fashioned stopper,” he said. “He’s also very good on offensive set pieces and scored eight to 10 goals off set pieces every season with Joe Public. I think he’s ready for this league.”
Whitecaps interim head coach Tom Soehn felt Mitchell had a “decent” day of training considering he just arrived.
“At the end, I felt he got a little bit tired and got exposed but he communicates and he’s athletic,” he said. “Offensively, I think he’s going to be a threat because he’s pretty agile.”
Soehn said his squad hasn’t been good enough on scoring off set pieces this season, noting a lack of effort in making real runs and getting to the near post.
Mitchell might help in that area.
“There are certain guys who really go and attack the ball and he’s got that mentality,” Soehn said. “Where he fits in the picture, though, we’ve only had one day (to look at him).”
Mitchell could make his Vancouver debut in the reserve league game against the Portland Timbers at Swangard Stadium on Monday.
Soehn said centre backs Jay DeMerit and Alain Rochat have played well recently but he still wants them to be more vocal and organizational — to solve problems before they turn into goals.
“We have to make sure we keep our shape and tuck guys in before it breaks down,” he said. “We’re reactionary now and that’s a problem. We have to continue to be better. If we don’t solve it, then we’ve got to find someone who can.”
Former Joe Public centre back Mitchell joins Whitecaps in first practice.
By Marc Weber (The Province).
The Vancouver Whitecaps have been dreadful on attacking set pieces this season with just one goal coming from a corner.
Carlyle Mitchell hopes he can help in that department.
The Trinidad & Tobago centre back landed in Vancouver late Wednesday night and practised for the first time with his new teammates Thursday at Empire Field.
He signed just before the Sept. 15 roster freeze but visa issues delayed his arrival.
Mitchell, a lanky 24-year-old, played previously for Joe Public FC, a top team in Trinidad & Tobago.
"Back in Trinidad, I scored a lot of headers," he said. "It's one of my strong points."
Mitchell, who otherwise described his game as "simple," could see time with the Whitecaps reserves as soon as Monday when they host Portland at Swangard Stadium.
Whitecaps acting coach Tommy Soehn said Mitchell's height (6-foot-2) and agility should come in handy on set pieces.
"I look at our commitment to getting to the near post and making real runs," he said, "and we lack that effort, getting into those spots. There are certain guys who attack the ball, and [Mitchell] has got that mentality. On set pieces, I think he'll be a threat.
"First impressions, he had a decent day."
Mitchell was accompanied by his agent and former coach Derek King, who is helping him to settle in.
Joe Public withdrew from the 2011-12 T&T Pro League. The club is owned by Jack Warner, the former FIFA vice-president and CONCACAF head, who quit amid corruption allegations.
Vancouver expressed interest in Mitchell shortly after Joe Public bowed out for the season.
Mitchell's Trinidadian friends in MLS include Philadelphia Union's Keon Daniel and Julius James of the Columbus Crew.
Mitchell hadn't yet found a chance to talk to them about the move, but one day into training and he could already sense the step up was a big one.
"The intensity is very high," he said. "More than Trinidad. Fast, very fast. In Trinidad we play a bit slow, but I'm adapting to it."
How quickly he adapts will determine how quickly he sees time with the first team.
Soehn jettisoned French centre back Mouloud Akloul and his $150,000 salary mid-way through the season. Veteran Alain Rochat has moved into the middle from his left-back position and partnered Jay DeMerit.
New Zealand international, rookie Michael Boxall, has been Soehn's third choice ahead of Greg Janicki.