It was an historic day when Jay DeMerit became Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s first Major League Soccer signing, but I believe Monday’s announcement that our captain has re-signed with the club is just as important.
We have a new coach in Carl Robinson and a lot of young players on our roster that are going to benefit from a veteran presence like DeMerit, who has seen and done it all before.
After missing most of the 2013 MLS season, we know DeMerit will be chomping at the bit to make up for lost time and lead this team back to the playoffs and write another chapter in his story.
For me, there’s just something to be said about centre backs that captain their team, as they seem to be from the same mold. They command from the back, winning anything that comes into their penalty box. They put their body on the line and expect their teammates to do the same. They are fierce leaders that inspire others to follow.
In the 1979 Soccer Bowl Championship, our captain was centre back John Craven – a man you didn’t mess around with. He didn’t say much but if you did something wrong you were scared to look in his direction. The year before I joined the ‘Caps, I was told he broke a leg in the semifinal playoff game against Portland and that probably cost them the series. It was very apparent that he wanted to make up for that the following season.
Two Craven stories stand out in my mind. The first one was early in the ‘79 season when we were standing in the tunnel at Giants Stadium getting ready to play the mighty New York Cosmos and all their star players. All of a sudden, Cravo – as we called him – started ranting and raving like a lunatic. At first, you could see the Cosmos players looking at this guy thinking what a nutcase he was, and then that quickly turned to fear in their eyes. We went on to win 4-1 and Mr. Craven was outstanding.
The other story was from the start of the ‘79 playoffs and our return leg at home against Dallas Tornado. We were ahead 3-2 and their coach Al Miller called Craven a thug. Dallas scored around the 56th minute to tie the game and put the game in doubt. Up steps our captain eight minutes later to score two goals in 74 seconds to take us through to the next round. He lifted the Cup just a few weeks later.
Any athlete will tell you what DeMerit did by coming back so soon from his devastating Achilles injury was just remarkable and just added to the lore of our captain. Along with his steady performances on the pitch, DeMerit brings a huge presence to the dressing room that will greatly benefit this team.
Of course, we still have a few holes to fill and that will come, but this is an important signing for our club and it shouldn’t be underestimated.