July 28, 2014

The End to a Great Soccer Story

Even in the world of post-World Cup soccer euphoria, there's not much reason people noticed the announced retirement of Jay Demerit last week.  Demerit, a defender, played 25 times for the United States national team, including several games in South Africa for the 2010 World Cup, and had to call time on his career for the most mundane of reasons - accumulated injuries prevented him from continuing to play at a top level.  He wound up his career with the Vancouver Whitecaps in MLS, moving there when the team joined the league in 2011.

What's really neat about Demerit, aside from the fact that he seems like a great guy off the field, is how he even got that far.

Like many American players, Demerit went to Europe to find playing time.  But he didn't move straight from a youth team to a competitive club near the top of a European league or even a second-tier club.  Instead, he went to England after college (taking advantage of some helpful European quasi-citizenry) and wound up at mighty Southall FC, who currently reside in the "Spartan South Midlands League."  For the uninitiated, that's at the 10th level of the English soccer pyramid.  If you want a baseball analogy, where the Premier League is the Major Leagues and the Championship is AAA, then Southall is, essentially, on the level of Little League.*

In fact, Demerit only played two games for Southall before moving on to Northwood (7th level - about high school), but never played a competitive match for them.  That's because he so impressed one of their preseason opponents, Watford (then in the Championship), that he earned a two-week tryout.  After that, he got a one-year deal.

Then came 183 games for Watford, over five seasons, during which Demerit became a regular starter and helped Watford move up to the Premier League.  In fact, he scored the game winning goal in the Championship playoff final against Leeds (*sniff*) that sent Watford up.  It was Demerit's performances at Watford that led to him being called up for the national team, which included play in the 2009 Confederations Cup (When we dumped Spain), as well as the aforementioned South African edition of the World Cup.  And from there, on to Vancouver.

Why Vancouver?  As Demerit explains:
After the World Cup in 2010 I was a free agent, and Whitecaps FC were the team that fought hardest for me and the team that wanted me to play the role that I hoped my experience in this game could handle.
It's nice to be wanted, isn't it?

All in all, it's the kind of story they make movies about right?  Right:

Thanks, Jay.  Enjoy your retirement!

* Actually, that's not fair.  Far down the rung as Southall is, its players are adults and even get paid, albeit a very very little amount.  It really is amazing the amount of soccer that gets played at a serious level in England.

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