WFC World Cup Week: Jay DeMerit's 'improbable' journey to the 2010 FIFA World Cup

DeMerit on eye injury: "Just another bump in the road"

Jay DeMerit 2010 FIFA World Cup

Photo Credit: 
USA Today Sports Images

The final draw for the 2014 FIFA World Cup is scheduled to take place this Friday, December 6. In the days leading up to the draw, whitecapsfc.com will recount some of Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s different World Cup connections as part of "WFC World Cup Week.”

VANCOUVER, BC – The words “unlikely” and “improbable” are often used when describing Jay DeMerit’s journey to the upper echelons of professional soccer.  

In many ways, these words have defined DeMerit’s career.

They were used when he joined Championship side Watford F.C. and scored the winning goal in the match that promoted them to the English Premier League – not long after he was playing for $70 a week in England’s ninth division.

They were used repeatedly this past season when the Vancouver Whitecaps FC captain returned from a serious Achilles injury that was initially expected to keep him sidelined for the duration of the season.

Part 1 of U.S. Soccer's mini doc, "The Jay DeMerit Story"

And, perhaps above all, the words were used when the Green Bay, Wisconsin native – against all odds – appeared for the United States in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

“When I was a college kid leaving Chicago with a backpack and no real plans, playing in a World Cup was of course a pipe dream,” DeMerit told whitecapsfc.com. “The World Cup became a goal when I first got a contract in England.”

“When you finally make the World Cup and know you’re going to go, it’s one of the best feelings you could ever have because you know you’re going to the pinnacle of what you do as a profession.”

The fact that DeMerit played, and started each of his country’s four matches, in the World Cup was “unlikely” enough given the fact that he was a relatively unknown commodity just a few years prior. A potentially career-ending eye injury DeMerit suffered months before the tournament makes the story even more remarkable.

Back in September 2009, ­a piece of dirt scratched and infected DeMerit’s right cornea while he was removing a contact lens. The injury, which caused so much pain to the point where he had trouble sleeping, severely obscured DeMerit’s vision and required a corneal transplant.

He was told the typical recovery time for such a procedure was anywhere between six and nine months. The World Cup was nine months away. Naturally, there were concerns that he wouldn’t recover in time. And even if he would, it wasn’t by any means a guarantee that would be included on the roster.

“That was a huge worry for me,” DeMerit said. “That was a key time for me to play and establish myself on that roster.”

In the end, thanks to the latest laser technologies and the work of a world-renowned surgeon, DeMerit was back on the pitch in less than two months.

“I had to play with a stitch in my eye for three months and a protective contact over that eye to make sure I was protected and I could still see, but you make sacrifices and you put yourself out there to have success,” he said. “That just happened to be another bump in the road. It only makes that appearance in the World Cup that much sweeter.”

Despite his rock-solid performance in the World Cup, which helped the United States go undefeated  in the group stage, DeMerit has not been recalled to the national team since Jurgen Klinsmann took over as head coach in July 2011. That said, his passion and support for the Stars and Stripes is still as strong as ever. 

“Once you’re in that set-up, it’s hard to not always be a part of it,” he said. “Playing for your country is the ultimate honour and you always want to do that, but you also have friends and people that you’ve competed with who share the same dream.”

“To some of these young kids now coming through and mature and start to show success, it’s great. I’m a person who really appreciates those types of things because when I first came in … I was the young kid trying to make it. It’s great to see these younger guys starting to play very well for our country because it’s all about continuing to develop soccer in North America.”