VANCOUVER, B.C. — The correlation between injury and opportunity is perhaps the most bittersweet part of sports. Players often break through into the starting lineup as a result of a teammate’s misfortune, and dealing with that is just part of the job.
This past Saturday, new Vancouver Whitecaps defender Brad Rusin got a personal experience with that very thing. The big center back watched from the bench as his captain, Jay DeMerit, jumped up for a header, and came down hard – rupturing his Achilles tendon in the process.
When DeMerit stayed down, it was obvious that the 33-year-old was hurt. The Green Bay, Wisc., native isn’t one to milk an injury, and so just eight minutes into the 2013 MLS season, head coach Martin Rennie summoned Rusin to replace his skipper.
While disappointing for the team, in some ways, the lead up to this game was the perfect preparation for Rusin, as during preseason he was part of the first team group as DeMerit was receiving treatment for Achilles tendonitis.
“It was a bit of a tough situation going in and unfortunate to see Jay go down like that,” Rusin told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “But I was ready to step in there. All preseason, I played the majority of the time with Andy [O’Brien] and Joe [Cannon] behind me.
“So I was used to the guys being around me and I was confident going in there. A bit nervous at first, but after getting a touch on the ball or winning a header, making a tackle, you just be yourself out there and do what you know how to do.”
Rusin said playing in front of 21,000 at BC Place is the biggest stage he’s played on yet, as the crowds in the Danish Superliga – he spent a little more than a year there – generally peak at around 15,000.
So the fact the 26-year-old didn’t realize he’d have to step in perhaps eased the nerves of the occasion. And it helped him to a towering performance in which he dominated aerial duels and made a pair of impressive slide tackles to prevent opportunities in his own box.
“After the match, I was speaking with Paul Ritchie, the assistant here, and we were kind of laughing about [coming in without preparation],” Rusin said. “But at the end of the day, I think it was better, because you don’t think about it too much, and you’re just thrown off the deep end.”
But with word that DeMerit will now be out for an extended period of time with that Achilles rupture, Rusin is hoping to stake the starting place alongside O’Brien as his own.
New signing Johnny Leverón, also a center back, will be joining the club shortly, and as Leverón captained the Honduran Olympic team, Rusin is well aware that his strong debut is just the start of what should be a compelling battle for playing time in the heart of the Vancouver backline.
“He’s a left-footed player, good technically, but to be honest, I haven’t seen him play too much,” Rusin said of his rival for the position. “I know he’s a big talent, but I just need to be myself, compete week in, week out, and then it’s up to Martin to say who plays.”