U.S. Soccer player's success story becomes a documentary, sounds like fairy tale

Sunday, March 27, 2011 at 10:05pm

Jay DeMerit isn’t big on self-promotion. But self-preservation is a different story, such that DeMerit’s tale of survival in the soccer world has been made into a documentary film. 

“Self-promotion is a bit strange sometimes,” he said. “But it’s a story that I think, people like to hear about it, and I’m more than willing to tell it if people are willing to listen.”

These days, the 31-year-old defender is a cornerstone and the captain of the Vancouver Whitecaps, an expansion franchise in Major League Soccer. He is a veteran of four seasons in the English Premier League (eight total seasons in England), and his international experience includes appearances in the World Cup. 

On Tuesday, he’ll be a member of the U.S. team that faces Paraguay in an international friendly at LP Field, two days after it tied world power Argentina 1-1 in a similar contest in New Jersey. 

However long he continues to play, everything he does now only adds to his happy ending. 

Roughly seven years ago DeMerit, following a collegiate career at the University of Illinois-Chicago, had fewer than $2,000 to his name and began showing up — unannounced — at soccer club practices throughout Europe. He and a college teammate, an English native who traveled with him, attempted to convince managers of their abilities. None was impressed. 

“Nobody gave us tryouts,” he said. “We got free tickets to one of the games of the team. We got to watch a training session in Belgium, and we got to train with a couple reserve guys in Germany … who were just doing some extra workout, not full training. That was about it.”

The pair eventually retreated to England, where DeMerit’s career finally took root, albeit humbly. He was signed to play with a “ninth or 10th division” club, which allowed him to play games every Saturday and Sunday. 

“Sundays you played for free,” he said. “On Saturdays I got paid something like $40 a game. But it was something, and it was something to build on.”

His break came when his team played an exhibition against Watford, then a second division outfit. Watford’s manager at the time offered DeMerit a two-week contract based on his play in that game. That soon became a one-year deal. Before long he was a starter.

DeMerit eventually played nearly 200 games for Watford, spent time as its captain and scored the game-winning goal in the 2006 playoff final against Leeds. That earned the club a promotion into the Premier League. 

“Jay has played at a very high level and is one of [our] most experienced players,” Vancouver coach Teitur Thordarson said. “His playing ability and his leadership is a very good combination. We are lucky to have Jay as our captain.” 

He was 27 years old in 2007 when he was called into his first U.S. national team camp of any kind, but in 2010 DeMerit played every minute of the Americans’ four World Cup matches in South Africa, including the opening 1-1 draw with England. 

“You’re in the tunnel representing one of the 11 of your country against the 11 of the country that’s basically given you a career,” DeMerit said. “To look at those [English] players and to see it all come together in that form was probably the most surreal moment for me.” 

It was also last year that a group of aspiring filmmakers, including another former college teammate, had the vision of DeMerit’s story on celluloid. Rise and Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story has concluded shooting but is in need of funding and distribution services. 

“[The filmmakers] approached me about a year ago and said they’d do all the work,” DeMerit said. “… It’s different, and I suppose that it shows a different side of soccer in America that a lot of people really don’t see. If I can embrace that, I’m more than happy to do so.”