Whitecaps tip cap to resurgent DeMerit for early success

VANCOUVER, B.C. – What a difference a healthy captain makes.

After an injury-riddled start to his Major League Soccer career last season, Vancouver Whitecaps center back Jay DeMerit has gotten his 2012 campaign off on the right foot. The Green Bay, Wisc., native has led from the back in Vancouver’s three consecutive clean sheets to start the season, even scoring the winner in the club’s first ever MLS away win, a 1-0 victory against Chivas USA on St. Patrick’s Day.

“Jay DeMerit has been fantastic since I’ve come to the club,” head coach Martin Rennie told MLSsoccer.com recently. “He’s got a role to play and he’s taken it on very well. Sometimes there’s pressure on a guy who has to be the face on the billboard all the time, but he’s able to handle it and lead the team well.”

The 32-year-old’s reading of the game was particularly apparent in Saturday’s 0-0 draw with D.C. United, as he stepped up time and time again to prevent his assignments, including 2011 MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario, from receiving passes in the final third.

After a year in which he suffered from recurring groin and adductor injuries, DeMerit has become more confident in making explosive movements. Add in his renewed aggression on the ground and in the air and DeMerit once again looks like US national team material.

Still, the Whitecaps captain is quick to point out the clean sheets have been a team effort, highlighting Rennie’s defense-first system which looks like a 4-2-3-1 in attack and often like a 4-5-1 in defense.

“As a back four, and as an XI, you always work on team shape and team defending,” DeMerit said. “It takes an XI to get a clean sheet. You see how our wingers are tracking back and cutting down a lot of the spaces in the midfield to ease the pressure of the back four, which makes our jobs at the back a little easier.

“We’ve also had consistency as a backline – last year a lot of times we had a chopping and changing back four, and that’s hard,” DeMerit continued. “It’s been a good feeling for all of us to get back there and get used to each other and play with the same guys, so that helps.”

Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.