The Vancouver Whitecaps started 2013 with a victory, but they lost Jay DeMerit to a ruptured Achilles tendon.
The Columbus Crew are looking to build on a dazzling season opener by capitalizing on the absence of one of the league’s best defenders.
The Whitecaps are hoping newcomer Brad Rusin is up to the task of replacing DeMerit on Saturday when they try to contain Federico Higuain and the Crew.
Vancouver became the first Canadian club to reach the MLS playoffs last season, and DeMerit played a vital role as captain and linchpin in the center of the defense.
Now, the Whitecaps will be without him indefinitely after he was hurt in the seventh minute of last weekend’s 1-0 victory over Toronto FC.
“From a team perspective, Jay’s obviously an important person and player for our team,” coach Martin Rennie told the club’s official website. “But I actually think we can cover in that sense.
“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 and obviously it’s a blow but I don’t think it’s something we need to use as an excuse.”
Rennie is expected to call on Rusin to replace the All-Star defender again after he made his MLS debut as a substitute against Toronto.
“It was a bit of a tough situation going in and unfortunate to see Jay go down like that,” Rusin told the league’s official website. “But I was ready to step in there.”
Rusin will likely be under more pressure against the Crew after Toronto managed just two shots on goal.
Columbus had six last Saturday while opening the season with a 3-0 road win over Chivas USA. Higuain, last season’s MLS Newcomer of the Year, scored the first goal on a 25-yard curling shot off the post.
The playmaker has six goals and seven assists in 14 games since joining the Crew from Argentine club Colon in July, and he’s facing Vancouver for the first time.
Dominic Oduro has one goal in three meetings with the Whitecaps while playing for Chicago. He scored in his Crew debut last weekend, gathering a loose ball and racing 80 yards on a breakaway to beat the goalkeeper.
Columbus is now looking to start a season with back-to-back wins for the first time in club history, and it won 1-0 in its only previous visit to Vancouver on July 6, 2011.
The Whitecaps, though, took the only matchup last season, winning 1-0 at Columbus on a goal from defender Young-Pyo Lee.