By FRANCO PANIZO
CHESTER, Pa. — The plan was never for Jay DeMerit to go the distance against Chelsea. No, the plan MLS All-Stars head coach Ben Olsen originally had drawn up included replacing DeMerit at halftime so as to limit his minutes ahead of he and the Vancouver Whitecaps' visit to Real Salt Lake on Friday.
But when Sporting Kansas City centerback Aurelien Collin suffered a facial fracture and needed to be replaced late in the first half on Wednesday, that plan went out the window.
Collin's collision with Michael Essien was not only a scary sight during an entertaining 3-2 win for the MLS All-Stars at PPL Park, it also meant Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie would have to watch and hope that DeMerit would not suffer a similar fate in what turned out to be a 90-minute performance out of necessity for the sturdy central defender. Olsen replaced Collin with Philadelphia Union centerback Carlos Valdes, but that left the D.C. United head coach with no one on the bench to fill in for DeMerit.
"I'm going to get a bunch of calls from Vancouver really pissed off," said Olsen after the game. "That's what that means. The plan was get him out at halftime. He has a game on Friday and unfortunately, we couldn't do that. Our depth as center back wasn't great, so he had to gut it out. He knew that. He looked at me at halftime and said, 'What are you going to do?' But I thought he did a great job and it didn't really affect the game too much."
That's at least in part because of DeMerit's Man of the Match-worthy performance. In his 90 minutes on the field, the Whitecaps defender and former U.S. men's national team player broke up play after play. He positioned himself well throughout and his tackles were normally spot on, including on two diving goal-saving challenges in the first half that denied Romelu Lukaku on near breakaways.
DeMerit is no stranger to having to do the gritty work; he made a career out of that in Europe. And while you could not blame him for being hesistant to go the distance in what is essentially a glorified friendly that took places two days before his next league game, the 32-year-old had no second thoughts about helping out the MLS All-Stars when they needed it most.
"When your teammate breaks his cheek, it's probably something you've got to do for the team," said DeMerit. "Ben asked me at halftime, 'Can you step up and play 90? I don't really have anyone else.' When you're asked to do that, you're asked to help the guys come out and perform, that's what I'm all about. It was no problem."
That attitude combined with his stellar defensive contributions are why players and coaches alike were full of praise for DeMerit after the match. After all, had it not been for DeMerit's performance the MLS All-Stars could have conceded a late goal that would have seen their losing streak in All-Star matches continue.
"He's just rock solid," said MLS All-Stars goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, who played the entire second half. "I told him while he was taking an ice bath that he had like four important headers in the last 10 minutes of the game. The ball seems to find him which means he is always in the right spot, so it was fun to play with him."
Media members also had praise for him after the match. Some even considered voting him for Man of the Match but refrained due to the nature of All-Star games and the offensive players usually claiming the accolades and awards.
DeMerit, however, is not one to complain about failing to get recognized for his efforts. For him, just being an All-Star, getting to enjoy the last few days with some of the other league's great talents and hepling his team to victory over the UEFA Champions League winners were enough to suffice.
"It's been everything you expect," said DeMerit of the All-Star experienced. "You get guys you play against every week to come together and have a good time and enjoy each other's company and each other's talents. I think we did a good job of doing that and to see it off with a win is just the icing on the cake."