Jay DeMerit, the first player signed by the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps in 2010 and the first captain of the Major League Soccer team, officially announced his retirement Thursday, saying he was proud of his career and thanking all those that supported him.
Two ankle injuries in a 15-month span convinced DeMerit, who also played for the U.S. national team at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, it was time to retire from the sport.
"Even if I was to get back to a level where I could potentially play again, I would be putting at risk the reputation that I have spent so many years trying to create, and I won't do that," the 34-year-old Green Bay, Wis., native said in an open letter to fans posted on the Whitecaps website.
"I've always been the kind of player who wears his heart on his sleeve, and it's that heart that is telling me it's time to stop. If I can't be the player that I have always been, and play to a standard that I believe is high enough, then it's time for me to smile, say thank you, and give my commitment to a new cause."
Known for strong defensive and leadership skills, the centre back recorded one goal and one assist in 71 career games — 69 of which he started — with the Whitecaps. He logged a total of 5,928 minutes during his MLS career.
He also played for English club Watford FC for six seasons before joining the Whitecaps.
"I'm enormously proud to have played a total of 284 games for only two clubs and I got to be the first American captain of both of them for a combined seven seasons," he said.
"I got to play in the English Championship, the Premier League, and got to return to North America and experience the continued growth of professional soccer here."
DeMerit played 25 games with the United States national team and started four matches at the 2010 World Cup.
Injuries plagued DeMerit in the 2013 and 2014 MLS campaigns. He tore a tendon in his left ankle in a 3-3 draw with the Philadelphia Union on June 12, an injury that was expected to sideline him for six-to-eight weeks.
In 2013, DeMerit missed most of the season with a torn Achilles tendon suffered in the season opener against Toronto FC in early March.
DeMerit played college soccer at the University of Illinois-Chicago but was overlooked by professional scouts. He travelled to London with $1,200 in his pocket to pursue a soccer career.
In his letter DeMerit talked about being broke, "sharing bath water" with a friend and playing games with "nothing but a couple of cows and five people in the stands."
Eventually DeMerit would score the goal that sent Watford to the Premiership. He played in an FA Cup semifinal against Manchester United and a League Cup semifinal against Liverpool. He also played on the MSL all-star team that beat Chelsea FC.
DeMerit will continue to work with the Whitecaps as an ambassador.
"I knew this city was something special the moment I laid eyes on it and I am proud to now call this my home," he said. "I look forward to continuing what we have started, but now just with a different role."
Easy going and friendly, DeMerit said soccer gave him many opportunities, including meeting his wife, former Canadian Olympic skier Ashleigh McIvor.
"I got to travel around the world, grace a few magazines and billboards, and got to see the soccer community come together and raise money to make a movie about my life," he said.
"I got to talk about my beloved Green Bay Packers with Elton John while in my underwear and drink beers with Bill Clinton. I got to meet other amazing athletes and even got to marry the most beautiful Olympic gold medallist on the planet."
With one chapter of his life ending, DeMerit is anxious to see what the future holds.
"I'm incredibly grateful to everyone who has helped my dreams become a reality over the past 11 years," he said.
"I can't wait to see what's next."