demerit-ap-2010

Jay DeMerit, seen at the 2010 World Cup, will go from England to Vancouver as he joins the Whitecaps ahead of their first MLS season. ((Matt Dunham/Associated Press))

Defender Jay DeMerit is the first Major League Soccer signing by the Vancouver Whitecaps, a union between a team looking for leadership and a player seeking that role.

The move was announced at a news conference Thursday as the Whitecaps gear up for their inaugural campaign in the MLS next year.

DeMerit's contract with English club Watford FC expired prior to the World Cup, and the expansion team was an ideal fit for him.

"Vancouver ticked about every box in what I wanted in a new move," he said. "It's an aspiring club. It's a challenge to be a leader on the field and off the field. It's about being part of something new and something special. All those things are here in Vancouver."

The 30-year-old Wisconsin native started all four games for the U.S. at the World Cup. He's played 23 games for the U.S. but is yet to score a goal.

Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi said DeMerit is the full package.

"It's a real combination for us with the character he has, the leadership qualities he has, the way he approaches the game," he said. "All of those things make him the right character to be our first signing."

Former Canadian international Jim Brennan was the first player signed by Toronto FC when the team joined MLS.

DeMerit's soccer career has followed a winding road. A former manager at Watford once call him the "Rocky Balboa of English football."

In 2003 he travelled to Britain and played for Southall, a team in the ninth tier of English soccer. In 2004, DeMerit joined Northwood, a seventh-tier side. When Northwood played Watford in an pre-season match, DeMerit was impressive enough to earn a two-week trial with Watford.

The trial resulted in DeMerit receiving a contract for the 2004-05 season. In May of 2006, DeMerit scored a storied header in a 3-0 win over Leeds United which gained Watford promotion to the Premier league.

Watford later was relegated from the Premier league.

DeMerit continued to play with Watford, and even spent time as captain, until his departure.