Vancouver is hurting in its quest to reach Major League Soccer’s playoffs, and manager Martin Rennie’s job may depend on getting past the post-season velvet ropes.
So his decisions down the stretch are critical – and he’s got a big choice to make now with Jay DeMerit.
The former U.S. international got back on the field Saturday in a 0-0 draw in San Jose. Under better circumstances, Rennie probably would have held DeMerit back another week or so; the veteran defender got back into his team’s 18-man game day roster just a week ago.
DeMerit, you may remember, tore his Achilles just barely into the 2013 season, three minutes after kickoff on opening day.
Carlyle Mitchell, Johnny Leveron, Brad Rusin and especially Andy O’Brien have all delivered credibly this year in the central defensive spots. O’Brien has been just this side of sensational in filling the yawning gap this year left by DeMerit’s serious injury.
A central pairing of DeMerit and O’Brien looks at first glance like Rennie’s best option, but it gets more involved than that.
First, Mitchell’s athleticism and quickness could be useful against certain strikers. As DeMerit cannot be fully fit just yet, and since as he may not have gotten all the strength back in the legs, Mitchell’s ability to help cover and chase could be necessary alongside the former U.S. man.
Then there is Leveron, a young Honduran international who seems to have a great future in front on him. Leveron, 23, already has 22 caps for a Honduras side that may well find its way to World Cup 2014. His calm, ever-steady way in the back will only improve and could potentially benefit even more from pairing up with DeMerit.
Given so many other juicy options, it might look like a risk to deploy DeMerit. After all, it took Philadelphia forward Conor Casey, who had a similar injury, months to get his form back after returning to the field (then for Colorado). But DeMerit could be just the kind of inspirational figure Vancouver needs to rally past this summer malaise. The Whitecaps need inspirational figures in the worst way now, just 1-5-3 since mid-July.
Whatever he does, Rennie absolutely cannot afford to get it wrong. The ‘Caps have a tough schedule ahead, and just six matches to make up five points.