Jay DeMerit is just about the ultimate "coming from out out nowhere, works his tail off players" in the United States and would rank up there with almost anyone in the world. A long and winding soccer career took DeMerit through the lowest levels of the English soccer pyramid and eventually all the way to the English Premier League and 2010 World Cup. Now, DeMerit is moving to the league that had no interest in him at the beginning of his career and joining the Vancouver Whitecaps in Major League Soccer.
After a strong college career DeMerit went undrafted in the MLS SuperDraft and couldn’t get picked up as an undrafted free agent so the Wisconsin native temporarily gave up on soccer and worked as a bartender. DeMerit’s itch to play soccer was still there though so with a Danish passport acquired via his grandfather and barely enough money to afford the plane ticket, DeMerit went to England in hopes of catching the eye of a club. Catch the eye of a club he did, joining Southall for £40 a week in the ninth division. After playing well there, DeMerit made the big jump to seventh division Northwood where he caught his big break. Playing in a preseason match for Northwood against Watford, DeMerit impressed the Championshiop club and was signed to a contract. At Watford, DeMerit became a regular starter and scored the winning goal in the promotion playoff to send the club to the Premier League.
Thanks to good play for Watford, his promotion winning goal included, DeMerit got his first call up to the United States national team in March of 2007. Three months later, DeMerit was on the U.S. team that won the Gold Cup to secure a spot in the 2009 Confederations Cup, where DeMerit would shine. An injured teammate gave DeMerit the chance to start in the Confederations Cup semifinal against Spain and DeMerit was spectacular, playing his best match as an international and drawing praise from all over the world for his role in the 2-0 upset of the eventual World Cup winners. A year later, DeMerit was in that World Cup and started all four matches the U.S. played, cementing his place as a true and valuable U.S. international.
Prior to the World Cup, Watford elected not to renew DeMerit’s contract and the defender hoped that his World Cup performance would generate offers from top clubs in Europe. While there were rumors of interest from the Premier League and Bundesliga, DeMerit did not sign with a European club and the World Cup round of 16 match against Ghana remains the last competitive match DeMerit has played. That will be the case until March 19 when DeMerit, Vancouver’s first ever signing, takes the field in the expansion club’s first ever match.
What will be the biggest adjustment DeMerit will have to make?
Having not played a match in nine months just getting back up to speed will be the biggest adjustment for DeMerit. When a player returns from injury it is often said that the toughest part of getting back on form is getting his timing back and while DeMerit is not returning from injury, he is returning from a similarly long layoff. On top of that, DeMerit is 31 years old now so getting up to speed will be a bit tougher.
What kind of impact can DeMerit have on his team?
Being 31 may make getting back to top form a bit tougher on DeMerit, but it also makes him more valuable to the Whitecaps. Expansion clubs are often weak at the back and Vancouver will have their issues in defense as well, but having an experienced center back like DeMerit to somewhat organize the defense will be vital. Simply having a weathered soccer mind who is a leader and commanding the center of the defense will go a long ways for Vancouver.
What's a reasonable expectation in terms of production and playing time?
More than anything Vancouver will want DeMerit on the field regularly. With a central defender it is tough to quantify production, but playing regularly will go a long ways for Vancouver in establishing continuity and leadership. On top of that, there aren’t many MLS defenders who were recently World Cup starters so DeMerit isn’t just out there to tell other people where to go. He can play well himself and cover for his teammates’ missteps with timely tackles of his own.
What's the ceiling on DeMerit?
The ceiling for DeMerit has to be that he emerges as one of the league’s best defenders. At his age, DeMerit isn’t going to be a cornerstone for Vancouver’s next 10 years, but he can be the rock at the back in Vancouver’s rockiest time, the first few years. As the Whitecaps build their club it will be huge for the team to have someone who can put out some fires in the back and DeMerit can do that while cementing his spot as one of the best in MLS.