VANCOUVER -- With Jay DeMerit out for an extended period of time after rupturing his Achillies tendon, the Vancouver Whitecaps are in search of not only a temporary captain, but also a starting central defender.
And while Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie has several options to fill both roles following DeMerit's surgery on Monday, he added he was more disappointed for the player than his team.
"Obviously, it's the first few minutes of the game and the first few minutes of the season," Rennie said of DeMerit, who was hurt early in Saturday's 1-0 win over Toronto FC. "But we have people who can play in those positions, and we do have good leadership on our team.
"So we'll be able to go forward strong. Obviously, it's a blow, but I don't think it's something that we need to use as an excuse."
Rennie will decide whether to give the captain's armband to one player or rotate it among a couple of veterans. The more pressing issue could be to find a central defender who can display similar skill as DeMerit.
The Vancouver captain was named an MLS all-star in 2012, starting 31 of 34 league matches. He recorded a goal and an assist and, more importantly, helped the Whitecaps post 12 clean sheets.
Newcomer Brad Rusin is expected to get serious consideration for the starting assignment after he played well in DeMerit's place Saturday.
"I came here to play, obviously," Rusin said. "Maybe I was in a situation to earn my spot. With Jay going down, I'm just going to be myself and contribute to the team as much as I can."
The 26-year-old joined Vancouver in January after a season and a half with a Danish First Division club. Before that, Rusin spent two seasons under Rennie with the second-tier Carolina RailHawks.
"He's a quality player, and he's at a good age where he can keep getting better," said Rennie. "He's a fantastic athlete, and I think also playing beside Andy O'Brien can be big for him, just to get that communication and organization to him. But he's someone I've worked with before and, I think, will be a really good MLS player."
O'Brien, the club's other starting central defender on a four-man backline, said his experience playing alongside Rusin in the pre-season is a plus.
The Whitecaps, O'Brien added, have lost a "big personality" and skilled player in DeMerit, but will have to carry on without him.
"We've got good players in that position and every position," said O'Brien. "Your might need for certain people to step up to the plate in certain respects.
"It's unfortunate for (DeMerit), but we have to go into the next game now."
The Whitecaps host the Columbus Crew this weekend.
The team initially described the injury as a left calf strain, but Rennie confirmed after a practice that DeMerit, who is in his third year with the Whitecaps, tore his Achilles.
Rennie said DeMerit will be out for "quite a long time." Some reports have indicated his recovery will take six to eight months, but Rennie said the club will not know the time frame until it learns the results of the surgery. The MLS season ends in November.
The 33-year-old DeMerit had been bothered by Achilles tendinitis in recent weeks and at times last season.
"It wasn't a likely risk, because he trained all week, and even last season, his Achilles was sore at times," said Rennie. "So it's just one of those things that did happen. But I just feel for him."
DeMerit posted a picture on Twitter of himself in hospital and said he was "super bummed out," but staying positive.
Note: Rennie said central defender Johnny Leveron, a 23-year-old Honduran international who signed with the Whitecaps on a free transfer in February, could join the team in a couple of days. Leveron has been with Carolina on loan while sorting out visa issues. But Rennie indicated they have been cleared up. He could be another candidate to fill in for DeMerit.