With Andy O'Brien and Jay DeMerit all but recovered from their injuries, Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie will soon have tough center back selection decisions to make.Over the past 13 matches, Johnny Leveron has established himself as one of the first names on the team sheet, playing with composure far beyond his 23 years. Competent defensively and excellent in possession of the ball, the Honduran's presence allows Vancouver to build out from the back better than ever before.
His partner over the last three games, Carlyle Mitchell, has also shown well. The Trinidad and Tobago international is not quite as refined a player as Leveron, but he makes up for that with excellent athletic ability, especially in the air where he wins a high percentage of aerial duels with opposing attackers.
While the club has used the 26-year-old sparingly since his arrival to MLS in late 2011, playing him in just 12 matches, Mitchell has looked excellent in his six starts this season – and that has shown in the team's performances.
When Mitchell has started this season, the Whitecaps have a record of 4-1-1.
While he can be prone to the odd gaffe and mental lapse, his raw physical attributes often allow him to recover – and in any event those slips seem to become rarer by the match.
So what's the problem, here, exactly?
Well, there's no problem, per se, but head coach Martin Rennie could soon have quite a selection headache on his hands.
The Scottish tactician is on the record as describing captain Jay DeMerit and Andy O'Brien as perhaps the best central defensive pairing in the league, and yet their replacements have done so well.
DeMerit has missed virtually the whole season to date after leaving the opening game just eight minutes in with a ruptured Achilles tendon, but he has returned to full training and if he was absolutely required to play in a match any time soon, he would probably be ready – but with others playing so well, there's no need to rush a return too quickly.
O'Brien, similarly, is fit once again after battling a hamstring injury which niggled on for the better part of two months.
So what's the best combination? There's probably no absolutely correct answer, and it may be a situation of horses for courses when it comes down to it – if the opposing team has strong aerial players, perhaps the pairing of O'Brien and Mitchell would be the best – if it's a team in which the 'Caps are expected to outposses their opponents, Leveron simply must play.
This is all oversimplification of course, but the bottom line here is that the choices ahead are extremely difficult. Realistically, despite Mitchell's recent form, he's likely considered No. 4 in the club's center back pecking order.
So when everybody is fit, that likely means two of DeMerit, O'Brien and Leveron will line up for the side.
At the start of the season, DeMerit and O'Brien were the de facto starting pair, but Leveron has simply been too good to drop, and his skillset changes the way the Whitecaps play.
So will Rennie inexplicably keep one of O'Brien and DeMerit on the bench when they're fully fit in a crucial end-of-season match or even a playoff game?
It could very well happen, but we'll have to wait and see.