By JOSE M. ROMERO
CASA GRANDE, Ariz. — The younger, less-experienced, less-traveled Vancouver Whitecaps keep asking veteran teammate Jay DeMerit for World Cup stories or tales of his time in Europe or a handicap of some of the greatest international stars he has ever marked.
DeMerit is only too happy to oblige. He wants his fresh-faced teammates to listen, learn and dream big.
DeMerit did. The Packer fan from Green Bay, Wisc. moved to England with, as he characterized it, little more than a backpack, and ended up playing for Watford in the English Premier League for several years before representing his homeland in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
His experience helps make DeMerit a good fit as a leader of the expansion Whitecaps.
"I want to be here and try and help this organization from the start, which is kind of a unique thing in sports," DeMerit said after a recent Whitecaps practice in Arizona. "Especially in soccer. When you get that opportunity, it's exciting."
For DeMerit, 31, playing in Major League Soccer is something he'd always wanted to do. The center back just wanted to be sure the timing was right in his life and career to come back to North America. And what a return – DeMerit was announced in November as the first player signed by the MLS Whitecaps.
"Vancouver was one of the only teams that was willing to fight for me," DeMerit said. "For the last eight years of my life, it's been me fighting for me, trying to prove other people wrong. To have somebody finally fight for you was something that I appreciated and took into account when making my decision."
The Whitecaps offered DeMerit something he hadn't had in England – a larger role with the club. A chance to form the foundation of the new club.
"I've never gotten to play in front of my friends and family on a regular basis," he said. "There's gratification in that, too. To come back willing and able-bodied and still feeling like I have a lot to give on the soccer field was another big factor."
DeMerit is working his way back from not having played competitive soccer for several months, and is dealing with a nagging heel problem. He isn't doing much in practice but is running and working out on the side.
On Sunday he and another soccer veteran, midfielder John Thorrington, ran laps around the practice pitch. Thorrington is also not able to take part in full training.
"They are great with the youngsters here," Whitecaps coach Teitur Thordarson said. "They treat them well and teach them."
DeMerit is looking forward to the Whitecaps' inaugural game.
"That's why you put in the work early, so we can get this stuff out of the way come March 19," he said. "I'm not 23 anymore, so you gotta take these things one step at a time."
DeMerit has already found Vancouver, the city, to his liking. And there's nothing like something brand new.
"It's an amazing thing in professional sports to have a blank canvas and to create those kind of environments on our own," he said. "To experience that from the first day is a pretty special thing."