Brad Rusin will help the Vancouver Whitecaps try to overcome a major disappointment Saturday — while he continues to deal with adversity of his own.
Rusin is slated to make his first MLS start as the Whitecaps host the Columbus Crew at B.C. Place Stadium. He will fill in at central defender for injured captain Jay DeMerit, who is expected to miss most of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon.
"It's amazing, only the second game of the year, and I'm starting," said Rusin. "Of course, it's maybe not the best way to start, because of Jay (DeMerit being out), but it's a big opportunity for me, and I look forward to keeping the spot all year long."
Rusin, who joined the Whitecaps in January, proved himself capable last weekend as he filled in for DeMerit after he was sidelined in the first seven minutes of a 1-0 season-opening win over Toronto FC. While Rusin's opportunity has come quickly this season, he has travelled a long road to reach MLS.
The 26-year-old Crown Point, Ind., native spent the past year and a half with HB Koge of the Danish First Division. Before then, he spent two-plus seasons with Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie at second-tier Carolina. He has also tried out for a Norwegian team.
Rusin entered the pro ranks after playing for the high-profile UCLA Bruins, but he had to deal with the disappointment of not being drafted by an MLS squad, and eventually wound his way to the Whitecaps. Last weekend, he quickly showed that he can compete against some of the world's best, making a nice sliding tackle on Toronto's Robert Earnshaw, a former English Premier League star, in Vancouver's 18-yard box while avoiding a foul that would have led to a penalty-kick.
"It gives me a lot of confidence that I stepped into a tough situation and ultimately did well," said six-foot-four Rusin. "I just want to make sure I'm concentrating when I do well, and go out there and do the job."
Rennie believes last weekend's emergency duty will help Rusin as the Whitecaps try to remain unbeaten against a Columbus side that opened the season with a convincing 3-0 win over Chivas USA.
"I think (Rusin) will gain confidence from that (game)," said Rennie. "He played well, the team had a clean sheet, and he defended well and he did well in passing the ball. I thought he looked composed, and I think he'll continue that into this game."
It remains to be seen how long Rusin can retain the starting role. Honduran international Johnny Leveron, signed in February and currently on loan to Carolina, has had his visa application approved and is just waiting to receive necessary documents before joining Vancouver.
"I like competition," said Rusin. "He's a great player, an up-and-coming talent. We're going to battle for a starting spot. I've got a couple weeks head-start on him and then, of course, getting the start (Saturday), so it's up to me at the end of the day."
Rennie said Scottish international striker Kenny Miller will likely wear the captain's armband against Columbus. The club will not appoint an interim captain in DeMerit's absence. Instead, the captaincy will rotate among two or more players.
Miller, who has also served as Scotland's captain, wore the armband after DeMerit left last weekend's contest. The Scotsman also wore it often during the pre-season when DeMerit sat out with Achilles tendonitis.
"If I'm given the opportunity, I'll be delighted to take it on," said Miller.
"It's an honour — that's what it is. "It's something that you can always look back on and cherish.
"It gives you a responsibility, definitely, to the team and to the club, that you've got to lead them in a certain manner and do the right thing."
Miller, 33, was also given the responsibility of scoring goals when he signed with the Caps last summer, but he only managed to produce two goals in 2012. He believes his game, like that of the team, is a work in progress.
"We need to create chances to score goals, and if we're not creating chances, then we're not to score goals," he said. "And for me, I want to get more chances.
"I want to get more goals."
Notes—Rennie said the team has finalized loan arrangements for younger players who need to get more playing time. But the team is not yet ready to announce the moves. ... Saturday's contest is the only meeting of the season between Columbus and Vancouver. Last year, the Caps beat Columbus 1-0 in their lone battle, but the Crew has a 2-1-0 overall series lead.