Newcomers eager to earn playing time with U.S. team
TAMPA, Fla. -- Jay DeMerit chuckled at the suggestion that he took a roundabout way to making a name for himself in soccer.
The U.S. defender's journey to his first training camp with the men's national team hardly followed a traditional path, which is one of the reasons this month's call up from Europe has been so gratifying.
DeMerit is one of three players with no previous experience with the senior national team who are part of the pool interim coach Bob Bradley will draw from for Sunday's game against Ecuador at Raymond James Stadium, as well as a second friendly against Guatemala in Frisco, Texas.
Less than three years after packing his bags and heading to England in hopes of getting a tryout with a lower-division team, the 27-year-old DeMerit not only has ascended to play for Watford in the English Premier League but is with a U.S. national team for the first time on any level.
Talk about a rags-to-riches tale.
"Yeah, I took pretty much the opposite of the direct route,'' De8Merit said following a workout Saturday.
"But either way I'm here, and I wouldn't have it any other way. If you asked me if I could have gone the traditional or my way, I'd definitely say mine," DeMerit added. "It just made it so much more interesting for myself. You don't take things for granted when you do it the hard way."
The native of Green Bay, Wis., spent about a year bouncing around and living on less than $100 a week while trying to get his pro career started in England. For a while, he played Sundays for non-league teams, barely making enough money to put food on the table.
DeMerit, who eventually landed an opportunity with Watford, said the hard times only made him hungrier for success.
"I went over there knowing I would have to do it the hard way and put in the work," he said.
"Obviously when you get about seven or eight months in, and you're still not playing professional and you're playing on Sundays in the deep mud against guys that are maybe worse than the guys you played against in college, you think about the competition and where you're at. But I also knew I'd have to go through those things in order to get noticed or for people to see me play."
A groin injury limited DeMerit for the first few days of training camp in nearby Bradenton last week, however he joined the workouts late in the week and said he'll be ready to play if Bradley calls on him against Ecuador or Guatemala.
"I'm happy to get out there at any time," DeMerit said, adding he hasn't been given any indication of whether he'll play.
Fellow newcomers Benny Feilhaber and Frank Simek, who also have been playing in Europe, are hopeful of seeing action for the first time, too.
"I think I've had a decent week of training," said Feilhaber, a midfielder who has been playing in Germany.
"I think everyday I've been feeling a little bit more stable in the midfield and playing with Landon (Donovan) in there and that kind of thing. So, if I get the chance to play, I'm going to be 100 percent ready to go and give everything I have."
Bradley felt the team, which also features 11 players from the 2006 World Cup squad, had a good training camp.
Unlike in January, when much of the focus was on conditioning, last week was an opportunity to get a closeup view of the players who have been in Europe.
And while Bradley entered camp with an idea of what combinations he wanted to use against Ecuador and Guatemala, he stressed performance in practice was important, too.
"The message since the first camp has been that coming into a national team camp is something that you earn,'' Bradley said.
"And when you come into camp, there's a responsibility. ... You to want make sure there's a credibility level and trust level that when a guy has worked hard and done well, it counts for something."