Vancouver Whitecaps captain Jay DeMerit looks to lead his team to the postseason
The wins are great, but having the chance to contribute to them is even better for Vancouver Whitecaps captain and central defender Jay DeMerit. A year ago at this time, as the Caps inaugural Major League Soccer season spiralled out of control with a seemingly endless series of losses, the 32-year-old was battling a nagging groin injury that kept him out of the lineup. That prevented DeMerit from helping his team to get any kind of traction and post positive results.
The organization’s first free-agent signing spent far more time on the training table than on the field during the first few months of the 2011 MLS schedule. And by the time the Green Bay, Wisconsin, native was finally fit, the season was a lost cause.
But things are much different—and much better—for DeMerit and his soccer team to start the 2012 season. The captain is healthy (DeMerit has played every minute of the team’s first nine league games), the Whitecaps are winning, and the team looks nothing like the squad that quickly became MLS doormats just 12 months ago.
A thrilling last-second 2-1 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes at B.C. Place Stadium on May 5 gave the ‘Caps their first-ever three-game MLS win streak and pushed the club’s early season record to an impressive 5-2-2. With 17 points, the Whitecaps sit fourth in the nine-team Western Conference and currently hold down a playoff spot.
There are many reasons for the reversal of fortune, but there is no question that having DeMerit anchoring the back line with his no-nonsense approach is a huge boost.
“I’m the kind of person that wants to be out there, and that’s when I’m at my best,” DeMerit tells the Straight after a recent training session in Burnaby. “It’s not just the off-field stuff. I think on the field is where I have my best leadership qualities. And that was the hardest part last season. You could see guys looking to you to help, but you could only do so much. On the flip side, and the positive side, maybe that made some of the other guys step up and try to be leaders, and some of the guys who are still here learned a lot from last year.”
With just six wins in 34 league games, and not one of them coming on the road, most of the lessons learned by last year’s Whitecaps were tough ones. But DeMerit saw signs at the end of last season that the organization was heading in the right direction.
The Whitecaps bolstered their roster in the off-season, bringing in veterans like Sébastien LeToux and Young-Pyo Lee and adding them to the core group that included goalkeeper Joe Cannon, midfielders Davide Chiumiento and John Thorrington, and forwards Camilo Sanvezzo and Eric Hassli.
“It’s a lot easier to lead when you have a supporting cast, and there are enough leaders in this group that I can look to, too,” says DeMerit, whose first MLS goal on March 17 was the only one in the Whitecaps’ 1-0 victory over Chivas USA—the first road win in franchise history. “That always makes the best combination, and I don’t think we had enough of that last year. Because I was injured and I wasn’t actually on the field, that made it even harder to try to lead.”
But last year is in the past, and the Whitecaps are a different team in 2012. With new head coach Martin Rennie at the helm, they are a squad built on solid defence, which is where a healthy DeMerit is paying huge dividends. Partnered with Martin Bonjour, Alain Rochat, and the newcomer Lee across the back, DeMerit and the ’Caps had surrendered just seven goals in their first nine games and posted shutouts in six of those contests.
The newfound confidence in their defensive structure and the ability to prevent goals has allowed the Whitecaps to push forward and try to create more offence than they did a year ago. And so far, the results speak for themselves.
“I think it’s refreshing, and I think you see it in the way we train,” DeMerit explains of the confidence that is building within the locker room. “I think we’ve been energized by Martin and the way he coaches. Once you get that core belief from the manager, that filters down to the players pretty easily, and it’s a lot easier to grasp that and help that grow. That’s our job as players, is to make sure we’re all on the same page, and when that happens, things can turn around in a real hurry, and that’s what has happened here.”
A year ago at this point, the Whitecaps had just one victory, and the second didn’t come until the middle of June. So this team is well ahead of last year’s pace and looking forward rather than looking back.
DeMerit says part of his job as captain is to ensure that complacency doesn’t set in, but he doesn’t think that will be a problem. He’s a firm believer that as long as each player completes the tasks set out for him, the team as a whole will prosper. And DeMerit knows that others will look to him to set a strong example.
“As an individual, I just try to lead and make sure I give forwards that come here a hard day, and so far it’s been a good fit and it’s been pretty easy to do that,” he says.
Certainly much easier than last year at this time, when nothing was going right for the Whitecaps. This season, DeMerit is off the injured list, on the field, and looking like he might just lead this team to the postseason.