Jay DeMerit has been beating the odds his whole career, climbing from the American Midwest to England’s Premier League and then the World Cup, finally helping to found the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2011 as the team’s first captain.
DeMerit retired during the summer – putting the cap on his time as a Cap – and is now an ambassador for the game he took a chance on.
Or did the game take a chance on him? Either way, it worked out.
“It’s funny, retirement and I’ve been busier than ever,” DeMerit said over the phone last week. “I’m doing a lot of these appearances on the ambassador level. Showing up at the community events, at some of these Whitecaps events, youth events… to promote not only the Whitecaps, but soccer in B.C.”
And on October 18, DeMerit will speak at TEDx Vancouver. He was one of the first three speakers announced in August, along with Victor Chan and Treana Peake. (There have since been four more speakers added to TEDx Vancouver.)
“It comes with a prestige and it comes with a great reputation,” DeMerit said of TEDx and TED Talks. “To receive the nomination was a fantastic thing, not only for myself but to be living in Vancouver, being the former Whitecaps captain and to be speaking in Vancouver, it’s a real cool thing.”
This year, the conference will take the theme of TILT, which DeMerit says is about “turning your dreams into reality.”
And while the former Caps skipper’s professional expertise publicly revolves around what he’s done on the pitch, his experiences and his climb to the top is an applicable tale for anyone, in any field.
(DeMerit is also “an avid entrepreneur” (according to his TEDx bio). He currently works with a company called Songwhale, and he’s planning on opening the Rise & Shine Retreat in Pemberton, B.C. with his wife, Canadian gold medallist Ashleigh McIvor.)
“Going up against adversity, believing in yourself… there’s a process that’s involved in that,” DeMerit said. “That’s something that needs to be shared, just to share my story of how you go from a lower league of soccer to playing in the biggest leagues in the world.”
Each TED talk is only 18 minutes long, which is a challenge because a speaker like DeMerit has a lot he can share, he says.
“TILT, that’s the mantra, and my story kind of fit that,” he said. “The experience that I’ve had as a soccer pro, that’s something I think a lot of people can relate to.”
DeMerit grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, a city known more for its love of the NFL’s Packers than it is for soccer or footy, as you might call it. After a year spent with the Chicago Fire Premier – a development league team below North America’s USL – in 2001, DeMerit was an undrafted college graduate without an MLS team. He moved to England in 2003 “with about $1,200, a full backpack”, a “plane ticket to London” and the hope of finding a club to play for.
DeMerit began his English career with Southall, a ninth tier team, before moving onto seventh-tier Northwood and then Watford, where he’d play a total 183 matches from 2004 to 2010. (His climb up the English soccer world is featured in Rise & Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story, a 2011 documentary.)
DeMerit first played for the American national team in 2007, and he started the United States’ first game of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa – a round robin opener against England, a 1-1 draw.
“I would say the biggest one (moment of my career) was standing on the halfway line, playing against England in the first game of the World Cup,” he said, “knowing everyone was watching, the bright lights were on, and you’re one of the 11 guys representing your country on the biggest stage in the world.”
After the World Cup, DeMerit left for Vancouver to take the reigns of our then-expansion team, ahead of the 2011 season.
He married McIvor, who’s from Whistler, last August and DeMerit is a Vancouverite for good, for now.
His new gig, he says, is to be a role model for young players in B.C.
“We’ve made a lot of great connections in this community, and it’s important for us to get out here and be ambassadors for the city,” DeMerit said.
“Having role models that people can look up to, you know, I didn’t have that ability as a kid. Players aren’t only accessible now, but they’re guys you can go up to and touch.”
Since arriving four years ago, DeMerit says he’s personally noticed how much the game’s popularity has grown in Vancouver, especially around the Whitecaps.
“Just from the beginning, you can see the shift that soccer’s had (here),” he said. “We have an amazing fan base that will continue to grow.
“Creating that connection, between the players, the club, and the fans… to be an ambassador for that, it’s something that’s really exciting.”
The MLS was founded in 1993, just prior to the World Cup in Los Angeles in ’94, and struggled through a multi-year inception dogged by financial losses and all-around fan disinterest. But the league has since expanded to include 19 teams – 20 by 2015 – with three in Canada, in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver.
The league is now reportedly profitable, aided by TV contracts, commitment from clubs’ owners, and soaring attendance. Look no further than the Pacific Northwest, where the Caps have joined the Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers in a soccer-mad Cascadia region.
“Win, lose, or draw, soccer fans are there because of the connection,” said DeMerit. “You can see it happening in Vancouver, just like a lot of other places in North America, and that’s very exciting.”
This year’s TEDx Vancouver will be held at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, and ticket information – as well as speaker bios for DeMerit and others – is available on the event’s website.
Photo: Bob Frid/Vancouver Whitecaps FC (courtesy of Jay DeMerit)