Jay DeMerit
Philip Jarmain

Whitecaps sign no-nonsense US veteran DeMerit

VANCOUVER – The identity of the inaugural Vancouver Whitecaps FC team is still months away from fully taking shape, but the signing of Jay DeMerit gives them something very valuable: toughness.

“One of his coaches at Watford called him the Rocky Balboa of soccer,” remarked Whitecaps FC President Bob Lenarduzzi on Thursday. “That’s a great compliment, and I think it's fitting.”

The Whitecaps unveiled DeMerit as their first MLS signing on Thursday, and the US national-team veteran will join the team pending the transfer of his international transfer certificate. The 30-year-old is an imposing force, a gritty defender who reminds Lenarduzzi of a pair of his former NASL teammates.

“Back in the day, we had a couple of hard-nosed, aggressive centre backs by the name of John Craven and Roger Kenyon,” said Lenarduzzi. “If we can find a player like that, which we think we have, then we’ve got ourselves a center back.”

WATCH: DeMerit discusses why he joined Vancouver

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DeMerit, a native of Green Bay, Wisc., spent the past six seasons playing with English club Watford. He also started all four games for the US national team in their run to the knockout stages of this past summer’s FIFA World Cup. His no-nonsense approach in those matches is what caught the attention of Whitecaps brass.

“For a center back to know that your initial job is to stop the other team from scoring, you compete you lead, that’s huge for me,” said Lenarduzzi. “I think players like Jay at that position are a dying breed.”

In DeMerit, the Whitecaps feel that they’ve found a true leader, a man who embodies everything the organization stands for. DeMerit captained Watford in his last three seasons abroad and in 2008 was given the team’s Community Ambassador award in recognition of his charitable work.

“I anticipate that we’ll have a fairly young squad,” said Lenarduzzi. “So that kind of leadership is something that we were desperately seeking.”

For DeMerit, joining the Whitecaps was about looking for a new opportunity.

“Vancouver ticked pretty much every box that I could think of as to what I wanted,” said DeMerit. “And that’s an aspiring club, a challenge to be a leader on the field and off the field, and it’s also about trying to be a part of something new and something special.

“There’s something inspiring about being a part of something new and having ambition to make it even bigger. I feel I’m in the right place and I’m looking forward to getting started.”

Per club policy, terms of the contract were not disclosed.