Vancouver Whitecaps defender Jay DeMerit ready to marshal MLS All-Stars' back line

I know that many of you have followed Vancouver Whitecaps defender Jay DeMerit’s career for a while. If you haven’t, his story is pretty cool.

A Wisconsin native who went to college at Illinois-Chicago, DeMerit was a relative unknown when he moved to England in the early 2000s to try to pursue a soccer career. After being discovered by Watford while playing for a seventh-division team, he rose to prominence in a six-year stint that included one season in the Premier League.

Jay DeMerit could partner with the Union’s Carlos Valdés in the starting lineup for the MLS All-Stars. (Rick Bowmer/AP file photo)

That got the attention of the U.S. national team, and DeMerit played in the 2009 Confederations Cup and the 2010 World Cup. After that, he decided it was time to come back to North America, and he became the Vancouver Whitecaps’ first ever Designated Player.

DeMerit’s travels have been chronicled in a movie, Rise and Shine: The Jay DeMerit story. You can find out more about it here.

On Monday night, I talked to DeMerit for a few minutes after he arrived in Philadelphia. It won’t surprise me if we see him partnering the Union’s Carlos Valdés in the starting lineup for the MLS All-Star Team on Wednesday.

First of all, you flew to Philadelphia on a red-eye Sunday night after the Whitecaps hosted the San Jose Earthquakes in Vancouver. I figure you’re pretty tired?

Yeah, red-eyes are never fun. But it ended up falling that way with the schedule. You do what’s necessary, and I didn’t have to train or anything today. So I get some rest and I’ll be fine.

When you were growing up in Wisconsin as a Packers fan, I’m sure you watched the Pro Bowl plenty. Would you have ever thought you’d be involved in something similar playing soccer?

No, definitely not. First off, it’s amazing to know that when you were a kid, what you perceived as soccer – and what, if you’re a kid now, you would percive as soccer in North America – it’s amazing to describe the strides that have happened.

It’s a huge credit to the league and how they’ve developed it, and the way it’s continuing to develop. For me to just be a part of it, and then to be one of those players that is helping it grow, is a huge honor.

There’s a segment in the fan base in Vancouver, and in Cascadia as a whole, that argues – and you’ve probably heard this before – for the “Trophies not Friendlies” movement. They don’t necessarily like having the international exhibitions in the middle of the league season.

What kind of value do you place on an event like the All-Star Game, in terms of the exposure that it brings to MLS?

I think these games are important to put a spotlight on soccer in America. Nothing puts a spotlight on any bigger than the likes of a Chelsea or Manchester United, those teams that have come and do a lot of North American tours ever year.

To have Chelsea here, and to have their names on the [roster] sheet that you walk out with that people know, it’s something that’s important. There’s a certain way to grow soccer – and yes, it takes a while in the North American market, but I think they’re doing a good job.

Every year they are doing a better and better job at filling the stadiums and knowing the names on those sheets. That’s not just including Chelsea, that’s including the MLS players now. All these types of things are crucial for development in North America, and I think it’s games like this that really help.

For you personally, you’ve played against all of these guys on the MLS All-Star team. But especially guys like Thierry Henry, Osvaldo Alonso and Kyle Beckerman, to now be teammates with them – first of all, what’s that going to be like, and second of all, how quickly do you have to come together to create a competitive team?

I think that to get in environments like that, and play with guys like that who we’ve played against, it’s fun. You have to understand how cool an experience that is, to be on the same training field and to play with those guys, and be barking orders at them – which I’ll probably be doing.

That’s what it’s all about. It will be pretty interesting. I’ve never been in a situation like this, where you have to gel in 24 hours. But the good thing is that you’re here because you deserve to be, and that means you have talent on the soccer field.

The good thing about that is when you have talent and you believe in a system, then it shouldn’t be that hard to build that bridge and that little bit of team chemistry. We’ll look to do that, and we’ll look to have a system – I’m sure Ben [Olsen] will have a system for us to play, and a certain way that we want to play.

I think all of us are experienced enough to buy into that, and to go do what’s asked.

Being on a stage like this and being recognized by the fans like this, and also with the run of form that the Whitecaps are on right now, do you think this might rekindle your national team prospects a little bit?

You never know. That’s something that I’ve never really worried about, to be completely honest. The only thing I can do – and I’ve said this all along – is to control what I can do. That’s to be on the field for the Whitecaps, and to try to bring as much success as I can both personally and for the team.

You can’t have one without the other, and I’m very thankful to the teammates and the club for allowing me to be here. I know I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have the quality of teammates that I have, and to have the success that we’re having. All those things come into play, but all you can do is control what you can.