Things are looking up for Jay DeMerit.
The Vancouver Whitecaps captain trained Thursday morning after sitting out an exhibition game last weekend and a team practice on Tuesday with a groin injury.
The veteran defender lasted the entire training session and plans to practise again on Friday ahead of the Whitecaps’ season opener on Saturday when they host Toronto FC at Empire Field.
"I erred on the side of caution for the past couple of days, but I think it was the right move. To get through the training session today was the ultimate goal and Friday we’ll get some more fitness under my belt and be ready to rock," DeMerit told reporters.
But will he be ready to play against TFC?
"I would definitely hope so," DeMerit answered.
Whitecaps coach Teitur Thordarson was optimistic that his captain would be on the field Saturday.
"He looked good [today]. We’ll have to see how that affects him for tomorrow. If he doesn’t have any issues from today’s training, then I think he’ll be OK," Thordarson stated.
The Whitecaps announced the signing of four new players on Thursday: midfielders Russell Teibert and Alexandre Morfaw, striker Camilo da Silva Sanvezzo of Brazil and New Zealand defender Michael Boxall.
Teibert, an 18-year-old native of Niagara Falls, Ont., was with the Whitecaps last year when they competed in the NASL, but saw limited action due to injuries.
Whitecaps president Bobby Lenarduzzi said Teibert is mature well beyond his years, while coach Teitur Thordarson described him as a "pro’s pro."
Morfaw, 23, also spent time with the Whitecaps FC last season in the NASL.
"I think he is a midfielder that would fit very well into our way of play, as he is a two-way midfielder who works very hard," Thordarson said of the Cameroonian.
Boxall, 22, joined Vancouver after being the top pick in the 2011 MLS Supplemental Draft in January and looked impressive during the pre-season.
"He’s very difficult to get by, strong in the air and strong in the tackle, so he has a lot of good qualities as a defender," stated Thordarson.
Camilo, 22, recently joined the team on trial after playing in South Korea.
"He’s a good finisher and good inside the box," said Thordarson.
DeMerit, a 31-year-old native of Wisconsin, was the first player signed by Vancouver after they were granted a MLS expansion franchise in 2009.
He spent the last six years with English club Watford, developing into a solid and reliable defender — a reputation that was further enhanced by his strong showing at last year’s World Cup in South Africa where he started all four games for the United States.
His international future became a hot topic of discussion in Vancouver earlier this week when he was invited to participate in an upcoming training camp for the U.S. national team. The U.S. side will bring 24 players to camp and will select an 18-man roster for a pair of friendlies against Argentina in New Jersey (on March 26) and Paraguay in Nashville (March 29).
If DeMerit is named to U.S. coach Bob Bradley’s final roster he will miss the Whitecaps’ first road game of the season against the Philadelphia Union — the match is the same day as the Argentina encounter.
The Whitecaps have given DeMerit their blessing, but that still doesn’t erase the fact the team will be minus their captain for what will be a critical game.
And it could be just a sign of things to come. The 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup runs from June 5 to 25, which means DeMerit could miss up to four matches for Vancouver in the middle of the season.
DeMerit said he’s fully committed to the Whitecaps, but that he wants to continue to play for his country, even if it interferes with his MLS schedule.
"The Whitecaps have always been supportive of their international players. … Yes, I suppose at times it’s been annoying for them, but to play for your country is the ultimate honour and clubs don’t get in the way of that," DeMerit said.
One of the reasons why the Whitecaps haven’t stood in DeMerit’s way is his attitude and work ethic since coming to Vancouver.
Teammate and Canadian midfielder Terry Dunfield described DeMerit as a model professional
"To have a player, first and foremost, of his qualities is great. He’s a great organizer, he gives 100 per cent and he’s a kind of captain you want to follow into battle," Dunfield stated.
He has also taken the time to help younger and less-experienced players on the team, including Michael Boxall, a 22-year-old defender from New Zealand.
"You want to be a sponge and soak up all you can from the more experienced players around you. … Jay DeMerit has been a big help," admitted Boxall.
His mentoring efforts haven’t gone unnoticed by goalkeeper Jay Nolly, who called DeMerit the "ultimate team leader."
For DeMerit, it’s just part of the job.
"It’s always an honour to [be named captain] but it’s also a responsibility. It’s a job to lead from the front. Hopefully I’ve done that. … It’s always a challenge, but a challenge that I am relishing," DeMerit said.