VANCOUVER, B.C. – The captain is sticking around.
After a tough week for the Vancouver Whitecaps, in which the club completed the protracted and acrimonious sale of Camilo and then faced questions over the contract status of draft pick Andre Lewis, word that Jay DeMerit will be back for 2014 began painting a prettier picture on Monday.
Sitting in front of a Whitecaps backdrop, DeMerit's bright smile was an interesting juxtaposition with the darker moods brought on by the Camilo saga that ended with the 2013 MLS Budweiser Golden Boot winner and 2013 AT&T Goal of the Year winner transferring to Mexican club Querétaro FC on Friday.
“As individual players, you're in charge of your career and what you want to do with it,” DeMerit told reporters at the club's downtown Vancouver offices on Monday. “He chose to choose a different path than being a career guy with the Whitecaps, and I would say, myself, I'm choosing the other path.
“I'm happy to be on that path and look forward to keeping that going.”
Having just turned 34 in December, DeMerit is now set to enter his fourth season with the Whitecaps. When healthy, the Green Bay, Wisc., native has been lauded for his combative play. He's featured 60 times in league play for the Whitecaps during his three seasons. But during that stint he has struggled with injuries.
In 2011, his first year with the club, he managed to feature only 21 times, missing about a third of the season due to various muscle pulls.
In 2012, his only full season of pristine health in Vancouver, he was selected for the MLS All-Star team as he helped lead the Caps to the playoffs for the first time.
Then there was the nightmare of 2013, in which he ruptured his Achilles tendon just minutes into the season opener, vastly crippling the backline. He did not return to action until early September and finished the season with just eight total appearances.
Naturally, then, there will be questions about the wisdom of bringing back an aging defender with a history of injury woes. But for new head coach Carl Robinson, the injuries themselves were irrelevant. The decision to bring DeMerit back was based on the way the player was able to return from those setbacks.
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“I think it shows a little bit about his character,” Robinson told reporters. “Everyone wrote him off – and maybe me included – last year because he had a horrific injury on the first day of the season. But he showed his desire, his willingness. The energy he's got in him when he came into training every day to try and get back to fitness was phenomenal.
“As you get older, it's no secret that it's draining. But I didn't see that in Jay. I saw a fresh faced young guy, coming in and trying to prove people wrong, and that's certainly what he did. He got back into the team at the end of the year and he was a rock again. Based on that, his desire and character ... it was the right decision for us as a club.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.