Days after Vancouver Whitecaps FC head coach Martin Rennie suggested to the media that Jay DeMerit might not play at all this season, the player did just that, coming on as a first-half substitute in Saturday's scoreless draw with San Jose Earthquakes.
Not that the Scottish tactician had much choice in the matter.
The club was forced to leave center backs Johnny Leveron and Andy O'Brien in Vancouver due to calf and back injuries, respectively, and that meant Brad Rusin made his first appearance in the heart of defence since suffering a severe ankle sprain against the Portland Timbers on August 3, playing alongside Carlyle Mitchell, the squad's only other fully healthy central defender.
But, as has become the trend with Vancouver's center backs this season, injury struck once again. This time it was Rusin, who was forced to leave on 31 minutes due to pain in his lower leg.
While unfortunate for Rusin, this withdrawal paved the way for DeMerit's unlikely return to the pitch for the first time since rupturing his Achilles tendon eight minutes into Vancouver's season opener – an injury many had speculated would keep him out for the duration of the season.
“Sometimes you just have to go out there and play,” DeMerit told Vancouver radio station TEAM 1410 following the match when questioned about his return. “Thankfully I was able to do that tonight. A bit of a baptism of fire but I'm on the bench for a reason.
“I knew that if I was called upon I'd go out there and try to do my job. Thankfully the guys around me did theirs as well and we were able to get a good away point.”
DeMerit showed few ill effects of his injury, winning headers and making several characteristically full-blooded blocks – all while carrying on a physical battle with San Jose's combative center forward Alan Gordon.
“I've been spending the last six months sharpening my elbows, just for those guys,” said a laughing DeMerit on the broadcast, before stating San Jose's static attack proved to be an ideal fit for his return. “You're not trying to run with forwards that are picking corners and running all over the place. These are stand still forwards."
“[Chris Wondolowski] with his movement, you have to be sharp, but a lot of it's just with your mind and reading the game. That stuff doesn't come down to fitness either. You use your experience. This hasn't been the first time I've had to come back into these sort of situations, and you just have to make sure you're being smart.”
Gordon, for his part, was impressed by the way his adversary handled a return to the field.
"[DeMerit] did really well when he came in. I’ve got to give him credit," Gordon said after the game. "He did really well, so he filled the spot. I didn’t see any rust from him at all. He wasn’t tired out there. He looked good. He looked sharp. Credit to him. He’s a pro and he’s been doing this a long time, so that was nothing new to him."
Martin MacMahon covers Vancouver Whitecaps FC for MLSsoccer.com.