Unlikely partnership of Jay DeMerit and Carlyle Mitchell standing tall for Whitecaps FC

Centre back duo instrumental in back-to-back clean sheets

Jay DeMerit and Carlyle Mitchell

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USA Today Sports Images

VANCOUVER, BC – The unlikely centre back partnership of Jay DeMerit and Carlyle Mitchell could have been just what the doctor ordered for Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

Since DeMerit replaced an injured Brad Rusin in the first half of Vancouver’s September 14 match against San Jose Earthquakes, he and Mitchell have helped Whitecaps FC keep a clean sheet for nearly 150 minutes of action.

It’s even more impressive considering who they were matched up against.

With the help of some timely goalkeeping from David Ousted, DeMerit and Mitchell managed to keep last year’s MLS Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski and this year’s frontrunner Marco Di Vaio off the scoresheet in Vancouver’s last two outings.

Last weekend against Montreal, the two combined for 18 clearances, 10 interceptions, and four blocks. It was a similar story the week before at San Jose, when they combined for 25 clearances and completed 37 of 42 passes.

The stats only tell half the story, however. It’s also about the presence they bring to the pitch.

“I think they’ve been tremendous the last two games … if you feel the guy behind you is going to make the tackle and the guy behind you is going to make the save, then you won’t be as reluctant to go forward,” said Ousted, who also praised the strong defensive play of fullbacks Young-Pyo Lee and Jordan Harvey.

“They’re both putting their bodies on the line, making blocks and also squeezing the game up higher when there’s pressure on the ball and I think that’s reduced the chances the opposition has had,” added Whitecaps FC head coach Martin Rennie. “I’m really pleased with how that partnership is going.”

In a season where Rennie has been forced to field no less than eight different centre back pairs, it seems he’s found a winning combination in DeMerit and Mitchell. 

They’re also probably the unlikeliest one.

The ‘Caps skipper went down with a devastating Achilles tendon injury in Vancouver’s regular season opener, leaving his season in jeopardy, while Mitchell joined FC Edmonton just a few weeks later on what was supposed to be a season-long loan.

Then injuries to Andy O’Brien, Johnny Leveron and Rusin, coupled with DeMerit’s improbable return, forced Rennie’s hand and resulted in his latest centre back partnership.

This isn’t the first time DeMerit and Mitchell have played together. They started three matches at the end of the 2011 MLS season, as well as the second leg of last year’s Amway Canadian Championship semifinal against FC Edmonton.

In those games, Whitecaps FC posted a 3W-1L-0D record.

“We have great understanding,” Mitchell told whitecapsfc.com of his partnership with DeMerit. “We’re both aggressive and we both read the game well. It’s all about communication at the back … and Jay’s perfect for that. In all the teams I’ve played, I’ve never had a guy talking like that through the game.”

According to both Rennie and DeMerit, communication is the key with Mitchell. In the past, Rennie said his only concern with the Trinidad and Tobago international was his focus over the course of 90 minutes. That’s part of the reason why the always-vocal DeMerit complements him so well.

“When you direct him and you let him use that athleticism, he’s a great asset to our club,” DeMerit told reporters earlier this week. “For me, it’s about getting into him and making sure he’s doing the right things and staying switched on. When he does that, his athleticism speaks for itself. He’s great in the air, he competes hard and he listens well, so hopefully he can continue his form now.”

Should DeMerit and Mitchell get the nod again this weekend, they’ll be put to the test against a Real Salt Lake side that has scored more goals than any other team this season.

And by all accounts, they’ll be up for the challenge.