In the midst of a one-win-in-eight spell, the Vancouver Whitecaps could probably use the kick to the backside the return of captain Jay DeMerit would surely provide.
But it looks as if the 33-year-old's comeback to the first XI could still be a ways off.
The Green Bay, Wisc., native made the bench over the weekend in his first return to a match-day squad since rupturing his Achilles tendon on opening day. But to hear Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie tell it this week, DeMerit was there more out of a shortage of options and to provide a presence rather than because he stood a chance of returning to the field.
“We didn't really have anyone else,” Rennie said on Tuesday of DeMerit's inclusion in the squad over the weekend. “The only players we had available for that game were Aminu [Abdallah] and Greg Klazura, and we probably wouldn't have played them, so we decided to include Jay in the squad just to bring him along and have his leadership there.”
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As for why Rennie hasn't played the center back yet, the Scotsman stated it isn't even an option right now.
“He's not ready yet,” Rennie said. “So there's not really much I can do until he's ready.”
Rennie's explanation raises the question of whether a potential DeMerit comeback will be in the cards at all this season.
“It's hard to say,” Rennie said. “I mean he's come back from a pretty serious injury, and to get back up to full match fitness and sharpness at this point of the season where everybody's flying at 100 percent, it's not going to be easy. But if someone can do it, it would be him.
“We'll certainly keep an open mind on it, but at this point in time we don't see him being ready.”
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Adding complexity to the situation is the fact that DeMerit can't really play any sort of competitive non-MLS matches. Vancouver's MLS Reserve League season has concluded, and the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, who provided decent scrimmage partners earlier this season, are now largely unavailable due to their own competitive commitments.
Essentially, the former US international is missing that final step of playing games at an intermediate level before returning to competitive action – he's been in full training for a few weeks now and was able to get one scrimmage in against a Thunderbirds XI.
But now there's still a gap it seems the club's coaching and medical staff feels is difficult to bridge.
“We're getting really close, and the final decision comes down to the manager,” DeMerit said. “We're having a hard time finding a game behind closed doors. Only game-like activities can get you ready for games and unfortunately that's been the major crush in our situation, is that we're having a hard time finding game-like activities outside of actually setting off with the first team.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.