Two players who took very different paths to U.S. Soccer stardom made headlines in Major League Soccer this week. One is a World Cup mainstay over the last 12 years who signed with the league, while the other is retiring after a storied rise from the ninth division in England to starting in the World Cup.
On Thursday, Jay DeMerit announced his retirement from professional soccer on the same day that DaMarcus Beasley held his introductory press conference after making his MLS return with the Houston Dynamo. Kasey Keller saw both players from near and far as a teammate, opponent and broadcaster and had words of praise for both players at pivotal points in their respective careers.
“I think Jay was such a cool story,” said Keller, who played in goal behind DeMerit’s back line for four matches in 2007. “You have a kid coming out of college and going from non-League in England kind of playing for a pub team and finding himself eventually in the Premier League for a couple of seasons and then starting in a World Cup is a fantastic story.”
After going undrafted out of college, DeMerit took advantage of his European passport and went to England looking for an opportunity to play. After starting out with Southall in the ninth division, DeMerit quickly moved to seventh-division Northwood, where he was noticed in a preseason match and quickly signed by Watford. Then in the second tier Championship, DeMerit shined for six seasons, even helping earn promotion for the 2006-2007 season. That earned him a spot on the U.S. National Team and he ended up with 25 caps, including four starts in the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
Following that World Cup success, he made the move to MLS as the first player signed to Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Over four seasons, the club’s captain totaled 71 appearances despite being limited by injuries throughout.
“It’s a huge credit to Jay and what he was able to do and it gives hope to so many kids who have been told they’re not good enough. If you keep going and keep believing that you could possibly make that happen,” Keller said. “Unfortunately for Jay a series of injuries really slowed him down. It was a shame because I think the move back to MLS had so much promise. I really thought Jay could have been a huge stabilizing component for that new franchise in Vancouver. It was a huge loss when those injuries happened and it’s sad to see. But that’s not what will be remembered from Jay DeMerit. It will be that he defied the odds to have a tremendous career.”
With his retirement, there won’t be a drop-off in the number of U.S. stars in MLS with the addition of Beasley. He signed with MLS at just 16 years old in 1999 and finally made his pro debut in 2000 after a trade from the LA Galaxy to the Chicago Fire. There, he scored 14 goals over five seasons before making the jump to Europe midway through the 2004 season.
Over the next nine seasons, he played in Holland, England, Scotland, Germany and Mexico and remained a stalwart with the U.S. National Team under Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley. However, under current USMNT Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann, he made the transition from playing on the left wing to becoming a reliable asset at left back.
“I love a player who is able to redefine himself and DaMarcus has always been a quick attacking midfield player. Klinsmann saw something in him and maybe it was a bit of a deficit in the national team at left back, but he thought he could really fit that role,” Keller said. “He had a very good World Cup Qualifying campaign in that left back role. He really embraced that position and he had an excellent World Cup.”
Beasley, now 32, is coming back to a league that is much stronger than the one he left in 2004. It has nearly doubled in size and has the financial wherewithal to bring in players of World Cup quality while still surrounding them with talent to play at a high level.
He joins a Houston Dynamo squad that is ninth in the Eastern Conference at 5-11-4, but just four points out of a playoff spot with still 14 matches left to play.
“MLS now is in a financial position to compete with these guys for salary and the way that the U.S. player now is being marketed, it’s no longer a case where MLS can argue that U.S. guys are unknown quantities and you need to hire foreign players,” Keller said. “You can bring in U.S. players like DaMarcus Beasley and he can be a marketing factor for your team. Being able to bring guys back is huge if it’s the right guys in the right situation. It’s excellent timing for DaMarcus to come back and I think he’ll be a big benefit to Houston.”
The Dynamo will visit CenturyLink Field on August 10 in a match that will be opened to the stadium’s full capacity.