VANCOUVER, B.C. — Following Bob Bradley’s firing as head coach of the United States national team on Thursday, Whitecaps FC captain Jay DeMerit paid tribute to the man who gave him his international debut in March 2007.
“I owe a lot to Bob for my international career,” DeMerit told MLSsoccer.com by phone on Thursday. “There’s been times when I did get my chance, and it would have been very easy for him to take me back out of the lineup [when players returned from injury] and put in the so-called bigger names, because it would have been an easy decision for him. So I always give credit to Bob in that sense — he thought I fit in the team and the dynamic he was trying to create and stuck with me.”
Perhaps the biggest example of Bradley sticking with DeMerit was in the buildup to last summer’s World Cup in South Africa following an eye injury the defender suffered while removing a contact lens. The injury eventually forced DeMerit to have a corneal transplant.
“I’ll always be indebted to Bob for the way he stuck with me in times he didn’t have to,” DeMerit said. “Coming back from my eye injury after four-and-a-half months of not playing, he stuck me right back in after World Cup qualifying ended and we had friendlies leading up to the World Cup. He stuck with me and he didn’t have to do that, so I have the ultimate respect for Bob as a manager and I wish him all the best in his new endeavors.”
A big reason cited in many quarters for Bradley’s dismissal is the underwhelming performance from the US national team during this summer’s Gold Cup tournament. As it happens, DeMerit was excluded from the tournament following an injury plagued start to the Major League Soccer campaign. The Whitecaps captain said he understood how perception of the team’s performance could have impacted the decision to change coach.
“Just like everyone else, I was surprised by the lack of dominance in the way we expected to show in the Gold Cup,” DeMerit said. “That’s not to take anything away from our opponents — a lot of our opponents in the Gold Cup are becoming strong nations in soccer — but I think we all expected to breeze through and to have more success as a team and I know Bob got a lot of the slack. I’m not sure if it was team selection or motivation issues.”
Despite some eyebrow-raising performances by the national team in the Gold Cup, DeMerit suggested a win in the final might have changed everything.
“I know he was under a bit of scrutiny for the way the Gold Cup went, but ultimately look what we did,” DeMerit said. “We got to the final and almost won it. If we won it, nobody would have talked about it, but that’s the game we play. You live and die by results.”
The US Soccer Federation named Jürgen Klinsmann as Bradley's successor on Friday, the first foreign manager to head up the national team in 16 years. DeMerit isn't against the idea of a non-American coach as long as it's the right man for the job.
“I wouldn’t be opposed to having an international manager, but we have had success and continued to climb the soccer ladder with our own homegrown managers,” DeMerit said. “Either way, I think the players will be responsive to them — either way you need to have the right guy and that’s to be seen.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @martinmacmahon