photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
If there is one word that best describes Jay DeMerit, it is opportunistic.
DeMerit has enjoyed a strong year for the U.S. national team, going from the fringes of the national team radar to cementing a starting role in last summer's Confederations Cup, but it was his performance as a second-half substitute that started it all.
Having come from behind to take a 2-1 lead against Honduras in an important World Cup qualifier last June, the United States took a hit when Carlos Bocanegra suffered a hamstring injury. To replace the injured captain, head coach Bob Bradley inserted DeMerit, who played defensively stout for the final 19 minutes of the match to help the U.S. to three points.
DeMerit's performance that night, coupled with Bocanegra's injury, saw him claim a starting role in the opening matches of the Confederations Cup. His toughness and tenacity in the tournament's three group stage matches did enough to convince Bradley to keep him in the lineup when Bocanegra recovered from his knock for the semifinals tilt against then-number one ranked Spain, a game the United States shockingly won 2-0.
"It's been great," said DeMerit of his time with the U.S. this past year. "For me, and guys in my situation, it's always about opportunities. Last summer was the first real opportunity I had to step in and play a bigger role on this team."
DeMerit missed out on a chance to build on his stellar summer when he suffered a freak injury to his right eye in September while on duty with his club, Watford. DeMerit was sidelined for much of the first half of the season, but a rare surgery allowed him to resume playing by December.
DeMerit returned in time to regain his starting role and play in most of Watford's games in the second half of the Championship season, but he revealed on Tuesday that his eye has not fully healed yet.
"I'm not back to full vision at the moment," said DeMerit. "I've had a couple small procedures just toward the end of the season back in London. Hopefully in the next couple weeks it will slowly be improving. Is it going to be 100 percent perfect? No, not at the moment."
Even with his eye issue, DeMerit returned to the international fold after a six-month hiatus in the U.S. teams friendly against the Netherlands on March 3, and he looked every bit as good as he did in South Africa last summer. He was one of the bright spots for the Americans in their 2-1 loss, playing against a strong Dutch attack that featured quality attackers Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder.
Since that performance, DeMerit has helped Watford climb out of the drop zone and avoid relegation. He will head into this summer as a free agent, with Watford having new plans to sign him to a new contract.
Another strong performance in a summer tournament could help DeMerit land a lucrative new deal, but he could also limit his opportunities if he struggles. Despite everything he has riding on the World Cup, DeMerit is looking forward to the chance to show his performances last summer were no fluke.
"I don't look at (this summer) as a pressure situation, I look at it as an opportunity situation," said DeMerit. "For me it's something that excites me, and something that I really look forward to."