Vancouver Whitecaps captain Jay DeMerit survives first game back, ready for his first start since injury

VANCOUVER, B.C. – A couple of days after making his first MLS appearance in six months, Vancouver Whitecaps captain Jay DeMerit was no worse for wear – and it looks as if he's set to make his first start this weekend at Montreal since rupturing his Achilles tendon on opening day.

Sure, he had a few hearty collisions with San Jose Earthquakes forward Alan Gordon over the weekend, but the Achilles has displayed no negative reaction to a return to competition.

“Of course it's a little bit sore,” DeMerit told reporters in reference to his body after a training session at the University of British Columbia on Tuesday. “Not just on a fitness level, but you pick up some knocks and some bruises. But that's a pretty normal occurrence for me, so it's just nice to be back and feeling that way.”

The Green Bay, Wisc., native's first game back went as well as could be expected. Although he wasn't initially expected to play, he came on as a substitute a half-hour in for Brad Rusin, who was forced to withdraw due to injury.

The 33-year-old marshaled the opposing strike partnership of Gordon and Chris Wondolowski comfortably and helped his team secure a clean sheet in a scoreless draw.

After head coach Martin Rennie appeared to downplay the chances of the club's captain returning to action this season just days before the game, the Scotsman's hand was forced to keep DeMerit in the squad after center backs Johnny Leverón and Andy O'Brien found themselves unavailable due to calf and back problems, respectively.

So could the player, who has been back in full training for well over a month, come back sooner?

“You're going to have to ask the manager on that one,” said a beaming DeMerit, when asked how he went from “not ready,” in Rennie's assessment last week, to the man of the match over the weekend.

While DeMerit's comeback seemed to work out, Rennie insists the player's inability to get games at the Reserve level meant going back to him sooner would have been irresponsible.

“He played an hour, and at the end he was exhausted,” Rennie said. “We played a game before [against the UBC Thunderbirds in a scrimmage] and he wasn't ready and that was only a couple of weeks ago. I knew in my mind that the only way he was going to get back in the lineup this year was in a situation like Saturday.

“He is one of those guys who does have intangibles that maybe do make a difference, but it wasn't so much on his fitness testing, which was showing quite well, it was that when he played that [scrimmage] he hadn't looked ready.”

As for whether Rennie plans to give DeMerit the start next weekend, the coach admits he doesn't have much of a choice.

“I don't really see how I couldn't do that,” Rennie said. “He has to play, and all being well, it goes well.”

Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.