Jay DeMerit embracing new role 

March, 23, 2011

One thing about American soccer players: They generally have a sense of the game's being bigger than they are. Take Jay DeMerit, who's training for the U.S. team's friendly with Argentina on Saturday (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET). The veteran defender rose from a little-known college player who couldn't make an MLS roster to the English Premier League and then to a starting role at the World Cup, where he was instrumental in shutting down Wayne Rooney in the U.S.'s opener against England. Now, at 31, he has decided to return to North America to play for the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps.

After his English club, Watford, decided not to re-sign him last summer, DeMerit might have been able to land a higher-paying gig somewhere in Europe, but that wasn't his priority. "I'm not somebody who believes in chasing my career," DeMerit says. "I'm at a point where I've been fortunate enough to have some experience, play in some big games and play in the best tournaments in the world. And now I can start to use that as an influence on the younger guys coming through, with the role I can play here in Vancouver."

The Green Bay native loves the Vancouver vibe -- "It's a lot like Wisconsin" -- and the chance to pass on some hard-won knowledge. DeMerit traveled to England and started playing at the lowest-level pub leagues, and worked his way up to become a folk hero (Brit tabloids dubbed him "Rocky") when he helped Watford gain promotion to the Premiership. "If you're just about yourself all the time and what it all means and constantly chasing only what's best for you, you'll get a lot out of your career," DeMerit says. "But for me it's also about the collective. I'm back here for the right reasons, both individually and for what I can give back through what I've learned."

Luke Cyphers is a former senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has covered American and international soccer since 2002.