Ex-Whitecaps' captain to help grow game
A lengthy and successful career on the soccer pitch now behind him, much of Jay DeMerit's future will be spent promoting the growth of the sport in B.C.
The first captain and first player signed by the Vancouver Whitecaps' MLS expansion franchise in 2010, DeMerit was in Kelowna this week for a skills camp hosted by the Whitecaps' Okanagan Academy Centre at Mission sports fields.
DeMerit, 34, announced his retirement from the Whitecaps last week, citing two ankle injuries in less than 15 months as the determining factor. He played 71 career games for the Whitecaps and nearly 6,000 minutes during his MLS career. DeMerit also played six seasons in England with Watford FC and appeared with the U.S. at the World Cup in 2010.
Now an ambassador for the Whitecaps, DeMerit is looking forward to his new role with the club.
"When you've been able to develop a connection with the fans and the sport itself and B.C. in general over the years, it's nice to continue this thing," DeMerit said. "To be able to transition into something that's going to be part of my next life is fantastic. It starts with getting out in the communities and being an ambassador for this sport, so it's another opportunity to continue to grow the game and that's why we're here."
Because Canada lags behind most countries in terms of development and performance—the national men's program is ranked 110th—DeMerit agrees there's plenty of work to be done across the country at the grassroots level.
Still, with the increasing profile of the MLS and big-league teams in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto, he believes Canadian soccer is about to enter a positive growth phase.
"I like the fact that there's more work to do than a lot of places, because it's a chance to be a part of this and how it's all created," he said. "In the U.S. because of the infrastructure, the backing it has and the sheer numbers of players, a lot of that is already in place down there. Here we're really still building and that's what's exciting.
"I look forward to trying to inspire a young group of Canadians to try and be a professional," he added. "The Whitecaps are more visible than ever, they're accessible and a great option for our young kids here. The way it's grown, we think pro soccer in Canada is really something to aspire to."
Right here at home, Whitecaps' Okanagan Academy Centre head coach David Broadhurst said the presence of professionals like DeMerit and Gershon Koffie—who attended a camp earlier this month in Kelowna—should only enhance the future the sport in the B.C. Interior.
"It's an experience that's hard to come across for young players, certainly in Canada where there are only three professional teams," Broadhurst said. "To give these players dreams and aspirations and to speak someone like Jay DeMerit, it's a unique experience, for sure."
The next Whitecaps/Okanagan skills camp in Kelowna is scheduled for Aug. 18 to 22 at Mission sports fields.
For more information, visit whitecapsfc.com/youth/programs/camps