Jay DeMerit is trying to create a better soccer culture than he grew up with.
“When I was a kid, I didn’t have soccer icons to look up to,” said the World Cup veteran, during a field-side interview with the Star on Thursday morning. DeMerit traveled to Nelson to attend the Whitecaps youth training camps in Lakeside Park as part of his new ambassadorial role for the club.
DeMerit said he relishes interacting with young athletes.
“You create this culture where kids want to be you. When you’re that person and you can see all these kids coming to camp with bright eyes, smiling and wanting your autograph, that makes you want to continue to be that ambassador role and be a face of soccer in this culture,” he said.
“I’ve enjoyed interacting with them as a player, and now as an ambassador I have way more accessibility to get out there. I have time to come to Nelson. I’ve been to Kelowna twice,” he said. “You become accessible and that creates a relationship between the fans and the players.”
He said he believes any of the Kootenay kids he met that day could grow up to follow his career trajectory.
“There’s no doubt there’s another Jay DeMerit out there. But how do you get him to continue to develop into Jay DeMerit? How do you get these athletes to choose soccer? By presenting an idea that’s sensible, opportunities to make their future brighter and inspiring them.”
His advice to the youthful athletes: “There’s a lot of work to do. These things don’t happen in a day.”
“Kids think they’re going to go from being a regional player to being Wayne Rooney, Ronaldo or Messi. But you have to take it one step at a time.”
DeMerit credited the Whitecaps for making his career possible.
“When I came here, that was the biggest draw, to be a part of something new. In 2011, when the Whitecaps were in the first year of their MLS franchise, to be the first signing of the Whitecaps was A) an honour and B) an opportunity to have a blank canvas,” he said.
“A shared vision between myself an the club has always been there about how to grow soccer in North America.”
He said they’re trying to create legendary soccer events, such as the Whitecaps’ Soccer Bowl defeat of the Tampa Bay Rowdies in 1979.
“Winning the Soccer Bowl in 1979, having 800,000 people in the streets of Vancouver. These are the scenes we want to recreate as a soccer brand in BC.”
DeMerit’s improbable rise to success was recently documented in Rise and Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story. The film tells the story of how DeMerit didn’t originally make the MLS draft in the US, then moved to England to play in a non-professional league.
Brett Adams, regional head coach of the Whitecaps, was thrilled by DeMerit’s visit and said it demonstrated the growing credibility of soccer culture in the Kootenays.
“If you talk to the kids in our program, they were all gripped and engaged by the World Cup that just was on. To meet someone who played in the USA Men’s national team at the World Cup is truly an unbelievable opportunity,” he said.