GUILDFORD – Jay DeMerit is one of the few athletes who understand how hard it is for young soccer players to play at the highest level of professional soccer in North America.
The former Vancouver Whitecaps captain was the keynote speaker Thursday (Oct. 9) at Surrey Board of Trade’s 2014 Police Officer of the Year Awards, and mentioned the importance of bringing a United Soccer Leagues Pro team to the Lower Mainland.
"Having a USL Pro team for the (Whitecaps) is something I still feel is very important," DeMerit told the crowd in his speech.
"The numbers are staggering how many kids we could turn into future Whitecaps. It’s important to create that developmental foundation for these kids to grow from," he mentioned.
In an interview with the Now, the former Watford Football Club central defender said Surrey was one of the first municipalities to approach the Vancouver club after the New Westminster proposal fell through.
"Surrey, by being such a large community, would be a great fit," he said.
DeMerit, who represented the U.S. men’s national soccer team on 25 occasions, said bringing an affiliated club would allow young Canadian talent to flourish.
"For a club that has a big youth initiative, it’s important to nurture that and develop it," said DeMerit. "The USL Pro is exactly the vehicle to do that."
A Major League Soccer team didn’t pick the University of Illinois at Chicago alumnus in their annual player draft.
He had to start off his career taking a chance by moving to England in 2003 where he started playing for a semiprofessional soccer team in London. The following year, DeMerit had impressed Watford FC, a professional
club who was in the second tier of English soccer.
However, if Chicago had a USL team, the Whitecaps ambassador said he might not have had to move away to pursue his dream.
"I didn’t get drafted (into) MLS. I didn’t even get asked to come to a USL team. I knew I had to do it the hard way and I knew I kind of had to do it on my own because my opportunities were thin. That being said, if I had a USL team in Chicago or something like that, I might have stayed," said DeMerit.
There are a lot of young players who train with the Whitecaps, but can’t crack the starting line up to get playing time, DeMerit noted. He said these players would benefit from the farm team, as it would give them meaningful games and experience playing at the professional level.
"The only way our youth is going to grow and really become first-team contributors in the time that we want them to as a club is to give them that experience in their first couple of years," he added.
DeMerit also said the club wants to
"provide another path" for players to reach the highest level and that the infrastructure of professional soccer still has to be built across the continent.
"Soccer in North America is still very much in an adolescent phase," DeMerit said. "The Whitecaps especially, in only our fourth year as a professional soccer team in the MLS, (has) a lot of growing to do."
The ex-Whitecaps skipper also has a documentary of his rise to fame called Rise Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story, which goes through his journey as a young player rising from the ninth tier of English football with Southall Football Club to representing the U.S. at the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
DeMerit said the documentary, which was funded by a Kickstarter campaign, is more about chasing your dreams than soccer, and that it was weird the movie was being made before he announced his retirement.
"It’s a little bit strange to have a movie made about your life, but I understand the rarity of my story," he added.