Boy, when the Vancouver Whitecaps want to get in the news, they make up for lost time.
There were some roster moves as the team terminated the trials of Ryan O'Leary and Kyle Porter while bringing in former Toronto FC and Chivas USA hardman Kevin Harmse. I wrote about O'Leary when his trial began and was optimistic; unfortunately, O'Leary promptly suffered from turf toe and struggled to get into shape, seeing only spot action in a friendly against Chivas. O'Leary seemed promising at first but wasn't able to get into sufficiently good shape to impress anybody. Kyle Porter also received my attention a couple of weeks ago when he went on trial with the Montreal Impact, and this release just confirms a divorce between team and player we all guessed was going to happen.
As for Harmse, well, normally I'd bless you all with a comprehensive write-up of the new trialist's strengths and weaknesses. But the Whitecaps also overwhelmed us with some bigger news: after much speculation, defender Jay DeMerit has been named captain, succeeding the retired Martin Nash. Midfielders Terry Dunfield and John Thorrington will be his alternates.
This is a major honour for DeMerit but not an unexpected one, and the relatively minor press attention shows how unsurprised the world was. DeMerit was even referred to as the Whitecaps' captain in some press reports before his official coronation; he had leadership experience, he was our marquee signing, and he certainly had the personality for it so many Whitecaps fans just sort of assumed. In this case, we assumed rightly. DeMerit will be a worthy wearer of the armband.
DeMerit was the logical choice, but he was by no means obligatory. In a poll held back in November before DeMerit signed, Terry Dunfield captured 48% of the vote in a poll to pick Nash's successor. The Whitecaps have also preferred Canadian-born captains in recent years. Nash, his long-time predecessor Jeff Clarke, and Clarke's predecessor Paul Dailly were all raised in British Columbia. Thornhill native (and current Toronto FC) refugee Adrian Cann wore the armband for a few months after Clarke before dashing to Europe. Kevin Holness, who was briefly captain when Dailly took a year off soccer in 2001, was born in Kingston, Jamaica but raised in Regina and a nine-time Canadian international. That's an unbroken succession of Canadian captains dating back to 1998, when the Whitecaps were actually the Vancouver 86ers and playing in a new-fangled organization called the "A-League". Of course Americans have been prominent parts of this team; Orlando-born Jay Nolly wore the armband as Nash's assistant last year. But handing the full-time captaincy to an American is an unusual step for the Whitecaps.
The player's nationality doesn't matter all that much, of course, and DeMerit has done a fantastic job of making himself popular in Vancouver. Normally I'd be much more concerned with DeMerit's relative unfamiliarity. This is his first time living in Canada, the first year he's spent living and working in North American soccer since 2001, and his first season with the Whitecaps. So far DeMerit has done a masterful job of fitting in, and most of his teammates are just as new as he is. Is Terry Dunfield that much better off than DeMerit just because he arrived last fall instead of this winter? But there's always a risk that somebody being thrown into a new situation, even one as well-grounded as DeMerit, might wind up not fitting in.
I'm mostly saying this to be the devil's advocate, though. When I think about the Whitecaps I can't think of anyone better qualified to be the team's formal leader. He's already been one of the faces of the team; among the general public his name is better recognized than that of any other current player, including those such as Nolly and Wes Knight who have been outstanding Whitecaps for years. It's impossible to tell these things for sure without actually standing in the dressing room but DeMerit seems to be popular and respected among his fellow Whitecaps. Although at the press conference which introduced him DeMerit and Teitur Thordarson were already being asked whether Jay was captain material, neither refused to be drawn and the Whitecaps were rightly patient as they picked out their leader. Terry Dunfield is Canadian but he's hardly been a Whitecap longer than DeMerit and was playing in England so long he's picked up the accent. Jay Nolly is a backup, Wes Knight is still young and will spend a lot of time on the bench... the candidates from that post in November are no better than DeMerit for a hundred reasons.
I want to be a contrarian. I want to leap up and say "this is why the Whitecaps are wrong yet again." But I can't because they're right. Even if DeMerit didn't get the armband, he'd still be this team's leader. Now he has the honour and he deserves it. I don't care how new he is.