It was November 18th, 2010. In a marquee press conference the Vancouver Whitecaps, set to make their MLS debut in March 2011, announced their first major signing. That came in the form of Watford centre half Jay DeMerit. He was an American international and, most importantly, was a leader on and off the pitch. Eventually, the Wisconsinite was named captain of the Whitecaps, a title he still holds at the present.
Sadly, his 2011 was disappointing as he spent most of it out injured with a bad groin. Like their defender, Vancouver had an equally futile season, finishing bottom of the league with just six wins. However there was optimism heading into 2012, a new manager, their first full campaign at a newly renovated BC Place, and a healthy DeMerit in the lineup. He ended up making 32 appearances, scoring once. It appeared that the 33-year-old was ready to finally assert himself as a mainstay in the starting eleven.
Once again, the American has suffered another setback, this one even more crushing than the groin knock. He picked up a sore Achilles’ tendon in the 2013 opener on Saturday against Toronto FC. The injury occurred just seven minutes in, but the full prognosis wasn’t learned until Monday – surgery followed by six to eight months of recovery time. Many speculated that DeMerit’s career may be over, but that’s yet to be seen. He’ll be 34 in December, and defenders tend to last until their late thirties. On the other hand, an Achilles injury is one of the hardest to overcome, just look at David Beckham’s rehabilitation.
DeMerit being sidelined last season would’ve given Whitecaps manager Martin Rennie a headache as he really only had three primary centre-halves including DeMerit (the others being Martin Bonjour and Carlyle Mitchell). Alain Rochat can switch to the middle, but is favoured as a left back. Andy O’Brien’s arrival gave Rennie some options, but in 2013, he’s now fully prepared for a crisis at the back.
The club said goodbye to Bonjour in the offseason, but the Caps picked up two players to fill that void. First it was Brad Rusin from Køge in Denmark, one of Rennie’s old Carolina Railhawks. 23-year-old Honduran international Johnny Leveron was next to be signed. It was the former that got a chance to shine against Toronto, and the 26-year-old didn’t disappoint. He made several crucial interceptions, held TFC’s front men at bay, and even made some key transition passes from defence to attack.
While Rusin’s performance came against a side that’s rebuilding (for the umpteenth time) and whose squad was fully formed just two days before kickoff, he will be a valuable asset to the blue and white. He seems excited about the opportunity he’s getting, is focused on the prize, and isn’t getting carried away with being thrown into the action so early into the season. That comes down to his coach, but it’s up to the player to follow what his gaffer says, and it seems that he’s doing just that.
Johnny Leveron is still trying to figure out his visa issue and should be available for selection very soon. But whenever he does finally play, it’ll be a privilege to see him on the pitch. He’s already earned 22 caps for the Honduran national team, and is deemed one for the future by manager Luis Suarez. He’s commanding, quick, and very skilled on the ball, all things that his new bench boss will want out of him. All that stands in his way from featuring is a Canadian work visa.
Jay DeMerit’s loss will be big for the Caps. Martin Rennie has two players ready to back up the squad as central defenders. Perhaps as important, his leadership in the captaincy role will need to be filled, but there are many suitable replacements such as O’Brien, Nigel Reo-Coker, Kenny Miller, or Y.P. Lee. The long recovery for DeMerit shouldn’t be much of a problem, giving him plenty of time to rehabilitate without the pressure of needing to return as soon as possible. As for Rusin and Leveron, Whitecaps fans can look forward to two quality defenders starting game in, game out for the next few months.
Peter Galindo will be providing articles from a Canadian perspective for MLSTalk. He also enjoys writing about the Italian Serie A. You can find more of his work at ChampionsLeague.ca, Forza Italian Football, and on Twitter at pgalindo16.