Three Good Questions: Vancouver Whitecaps’ Jay DeMerit

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Jay DeMerit is approaching the one-year anniversary of an Achilles injury that cost him all but eight games of the 2013 season, but if Saturday’s performance at Providence Park is any indication, the 25-time United States international is ready to reclaim a space among the best defenders in Major League Soccer. Thanks in part to his performance, the Vancouver Whitecaps prevented the Portland Timbers from scoring an open play goal in their 1-1 draw at the Rose City Invitational.

After the game, the Vancouver captain talked to ProSoccerTalk about the Whitecaps’ coaching change, his goals for the 2014 season, and his health entering his fourth season in Major League Soccer.

PST: Martin [Rennie] was respected as a bright guy – a bright young coach. Carl is also a bright young coach, but the one difference between them: Carl [Robinson] has a [lot] of MLS experience. Are you seeing that difference in how he approaches things?

DeMerit: Yeah, I think so. That was always the talking point at the end of the season  when it matters, you need guys with [MLS] experience.

Carl certainly has that, both on a playing side and on a coaching side, as an assistant. He is a guy that can bring us to that next level. With only six weeks of him at the helm, we’re already showing the improvement. Hopefully we can take that now to the next level.

On whether veteran leadership is important amid changing coaches.

Very much so, and I know that’s Robo’s (Carl Robinson’s) vision as well, to keep some of the older guy. Kenny Miller, Andy O’Brien, myself — guys that have many, many years of experience — are just as important. As he moves into his next stage of his career as a head coach, he’s going to need all the help had can get, as well.

I think we’ve created a good team environment here, where we’re all in it together. It’s not Robo trying to be the boss. He’s there knowing he needs his leaders and we need him, too.

The best teams I’ve ever been on are the ones that are all together, and we’re defintiely starting to show that now here.

PST: At this point in your career, what kind of personal goals do you set going into a new year? Be one of the league’s best defenders? All-Star team? How do you measure your own performance?

DeMerit: First off, you want to be a leader on a good team. For me, the number one thing I can ever do is get respect form my teammates and my coaching staff. So that’s number one: To make sure I’m here and giving my all for this team.

Number two is to stay healthy. As you get older, that sometimes becomes an issue. So my goal this year is to stay healthy, to play as many games as I can for this club.

And thirdly, it’s always to test yourself against the best in the league, and for them to walk of fthe field knowing I was hard to play against. It’s always been my goal playing against the best players in the world, and that has to continue now.

I enjoy that. For me it’s all about the competition, and I love competing. This year doesn’t change that.

PST: How are you doing health-wise, especially after what happened last year?

DeMerit: It’s been fine. I haven’t missed a day of training yet. Obviously, I finished the last two months of the season, so that was a good indicator.

With serious injuries, you never really know. Once you get back on the field and get back to where you were, that’s a good sign for moving forward.

It’s been fine ever since. Of course, I have to stay on it. I’m 34, and I’ll be 35 this year. I have to make sure I do all the maintenance work required, as to where I’m at in my career.

On the mental aspects of returning from an Achilles injury.

At the end of the season, that was the biggest mental hurdle, not only to prove to myself but to prove to the club that I can still be the player that I was. That’s the first step.

Once I was able to do that, I moved into the offseason with a fair amount of confdence I’d be back. We were able to get the contract done, so I’m happy to be here and still being a leader of this team.

We have a good young group of guys, but we need the old guard to step in and be leaders this year, because there aren’t too many old guys on this team. I think a lot of us that are here are happy to play that role and are looking forward to a good season.

Vancouver adds versatile Juarez, formerly of Monterrey, Celtic

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Efrain Juarez is bringing his game to Major League Soccer.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 39-times capped Mexico veteran has inked a deal with the Vancouver Whitecaps, joining a strengthened unit which came within a point of winning the West last season.

Juarez, 29, was unveiled as a midfielder by the ‘Caps, though he’s primarily played right back in his club career. He’s played at Celtic, Real Zaragoza, Club America, Monterrey, and Pumas.

Last capped by El Tri in 2012, Juarez has played every position except goal, center attacking mid, and center forward in his career (picture a ‘U’ on the pitch).

“I’m so happy and excited for this new stage in my career,” Juarez said. “It’s an opportunity for me to keep growing in a new league and to be a part of an amazing club in Vancouver. From the moment they showed interest me, Carl Robinson and the Whitecaps staff have made me feel very important. I promise to put all my effort into this club and do my best to help us achieve our goals.”

VIDEO: Asensio goal ends Real Madrid’s winless run

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Marco Asensio’s eighth goal of the season and second of this Copa del Rey put an end to an unlikely Real Madrid winless run in a 1-0 victory at Leganes.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 21-year-old darted in front of a defender to volley home from in-tight, giving Real Madrid a first leg lead in the tournament quarterfinals.

More importantly, perhaps, it gives struggling Real a boost in morale after draws with Celta Vigo and Numancia, and a loss to Villarreal.

Real is home to Deportivo de la Coruna in La Liga before hosting Leganes in the second leg.

Hopeful Newcastle buyer Staveley: Offer still on the table

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Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is probably happy that his for-sale club is away this weekend, even though his side’s up against Manchester City.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines — Week 24  ]

That’s because hopeful buyer Amanda Staveley has responded to claims that her hopeful takeover of the team won’t be happening any time soon.

Talks had stalled, said Tuesday reports, much to the chagrin of an #AshleyOut brigade that at times can make Arsenal’s #WengerOut brigade look like a yard full of happy puppies.

A “source” had said, “Attempts to reach a deal have proved to be exhaustive, frustrating and a complete waste of time,” but Staveley shot back on Thursday to reignite the fire. From the BBC, taken from The Times:

“Our bid remains on the table. This is an investment, but it has to be a long-term investment. Newcastle would be run as a business, but we want it to be a successful, thriving business that is an absolutely integral part of the city.”

She also said that popular manager Rafa Benitez is integral to her interest in the team, and that fact combined with her insistence that an offer remains on the table will have many Newcastle fans seething with current ownership (and there have been protests for years). It’s Ashley’s move now.

2018 MLS Mock Draft: LAFC, Galaxy hold the keys

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Major League Soccer’s latest batch of hopeful rookies learn the next steps of their professional careers beginning Friday with the first two rounds of the MLS SuperDraft.

There are several intriguing prospects, including accomplished Stanford center back Tomas Hilliard-Arce and dangerous Michigan winger Francis Atuahene.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

An MLS mock draft is always tricky given the wildly varying opinions on players from the college game. This year, it’s even trickier as clubs without picks and some with multiple first round picks may be looking to move up and down even more than the norm.

Here’s how we think the draft could play out:

  1. LAFC – Tomas Hilliard-Arce, CB, Stanford
  2. LA Galaxy – Jon Bakero, FW, Wake Forest
  3. DC United – Francis Atuahene, FW, Michigan
  4. Montreal – Joao Moutinho, LB, Akron
  5. Minnesota – Wyatt Omsberg, CB, Dartmouth
  6. Orlando City – Ema Twumasi, FW, Wake Forest
  7. Montreal – Chris Mueller, FW, Wisconsin
  8. New England – Mo Adams, MF, Syracuse
  9. New England – Chris Lema, MF, Georgetown
  10. Real Salt Lake – Justin Fiddes, LB, Washington
  11. FC Dallas – Marcelo Acuna, FW, Virginia Tech
  12. San Jose – Brandon Bye, RB, Western Michigan
  13. Sporting KC – Ed Opoku, FW, Virginia
  14. Atlanta – Alex Roldan, MF, Seattle
  15. Chicago – Mason Toye, FW, Indiana
  16. New York Red Bulls – Alan Winn, MF, North Carolina
  17. Vancouver – Tristan Blackmon, RB, Pacific
  18. Sporting KC – Jon Gallagher, FW, Notre Dame
  19. New York City FC – Daniel Musovski, FW, UNLV
  20. Houston – Mo Thiaw, FW, Louisville
  21. Columbus – Brian White, FW, Duke
  22. Seattle – Tim Kubel, MF, Louisville
  23. Toronto FC – Oliver Shannon, MF, Clemson

There are a few players to keep an eye on for the later rounds that I won’t project for the first round due almost exclusively to first person bias (Some I’ve seen play in college, others at other levels). Afonso Pinheiro from Albany produced like crazy until this season, and Bowling Green defender Alexis Souahy has a skill set that could really transmit to the MLS level.

Mac Steeves (Providence) is a prototypical big body scorer, while Evansville’s heady Ian McGrath has a flair for the absurd and can play almost every position up the center of the pitch. Charleston’s Thomas Vancaeyezeele was a D-2 monster and is probably worth a shot earlier than people suspect.