Jay DeMerit got the deal he wanted Monday and provided the troubled Vancouver Whitecaps with some stability at the same time.
The team’s captain signed a new contract after protracted negotiations. The deal eased some of the pressure on the Whitecaps caused by MLS’s 2013 top scorer Camilo’s departure to a Mexican team and uncertainty surrounding the availability of 2014 first-round draft choice Andre Lewis.
“Negotiations are never easy,” said DeMerit. “I’m just happy that we got (the deal) done.”
DeMerit who has made a strong recovery after missing most of last season with a torn Achilles tendon suffered in the first game, will suit up for the fourth year of Vancouver’s MLS existence. The 34-year-old’s re-signing was anticipated after he and the club expressed a desire to extend his contract late last season, but negotiations took longer than he expected.
Terms of the contract were not disclosed, but DeMerit indicated it does not extend beyond one year.
“Ultimately, for me, I’m at an age where I have to go one year at a time,” said DeMerit. “At this stage of my career, there is no such thing as a long-term deal. There are only short-term deals.”
DeMerit, who joined Vancouver after playing in England and has been the Whitecaps’ captain since their MLS inception, said he had to confirm that he was “still here because of the right reasons.”
DeMerit’s reasons included a desire to remain in the Vancouver area. He is married to retired Canadian Olympic snowboard cross gold medallist Ashleigh McIvor and plans to live in the region well beyond his playing days.
“What this does is commit me to the future of being in B.C., whether it’s on the playing field or off the playing field,” he said. “I came here for a reason three years ago, and that was to help develop soccer in North America and help develop the Vancouver Whitecaps as an MLS franchise.
“What this contract does is solidify that for the future.”
He also felt it was important to give the Caps some stability after Camilo’s departure. The Brazilian striker bolted the team to train with Queretaro of Mexico’s top league and then angered team officials by donning his new squad’s jersey before a transfer deal was completed last week.
“As the leader for (our) club, I have to provide stability,” he said. “That’s part of my role, definitely, in these types of situations.”
DeMerit has often praised Camilo for his unique shooting and scoring abilities. But the captain contended that Camilo’s absence will not affect the Whitecaps, who missed the playoffs in 2013 even though the former Vancouver star scored 22 goals.
“I’m sure the message from day one will be: Everyone who is here is here and the past is the past,” said DeMerit. “What you have to consider is that we’re all in this together. And, when you have that, then you realize that certain players aren’t here anymore and you don’t dwell on those things anymore, and the easier it is to move forward.
“And what we have to do here is move forward.”
But the Caps still must address the nagging question of which newcomers will move the club ahead. In contrast to Toronto FC, the Whitecaps have not made any star acquisitions since Carl Robinson, who has never been a head coach before, replaced the fired Martin Rennie.
“There’s no secret that we still need to make a few more additions that will help the character of this club and help the experience of this club,” said DeMerit. “But I think that the nucleus is there (in) both older and younger players that are here and have already contributed. Now, it’s just (about) making sure that we add to that and all the guys contribute in their own way and make sure that we can have a successful season.”
DeMerit’s primary personal goal is to remain healthy for the entire season after he was injured while going up for a header early in the 2013 season opener against Toronto FC. Robinson said the central defender’s ability to shine after he recovered and became “a rock again” late in the campaign is not a concern.
“I think (his comeback) shows a little bit about his comport,” said Robinson. “Everybody wrote him off — and maybe me included — last year because he had an horrific injury on the first day of the season.”
Robinson said DeMerit’s re-signing will help the team go in “the right direction” and deal with the uncertainty that has arisen in wake of Camilo’s departure and confusion about whether Lewis, a 19-year-old Jamaican who was chosen seventh overall in the MLS SuperDraft, will play in MLS this year.
“We want players that want to be at the club,” said Robinson. “(DeMerit) wants to be at the club and we want (him) be at the club, and that’s why he continues to be at the club. For growth in any type of club, you need stability, and (DeMerit) is part of that stability.”
Lewis, who has expressed a strong to play for Vancouver, has already signed with the lower-tier New York Cosmos. But Robinson said he expects that the midfielder will be at Vancouver’s upcoming training camp.
“I think there’s an agreement between Major League Soccer and the Cosmos (for Lewis to join the Whitecaps),” said Robinson. “We’re looking forward to having him in camp once his visa arrives.”
Notes: Robinson said central defender Andy O’Brien has overcome injuries that kept him out of the lineup for much of last season and will be ready for training camp. a Players will undergo physicals Saturday and begin the on-field portion of their training camp Monday.
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