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Key U.S. defender DeMerit begins comeback
by Ridge Mahoney, December 8th, 2009 6:45AM

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[AMERICANS ABROAD] Concerns about the U.S. central defense eased Monday when Jay DeMerit, sidelined for more than three months with an eye infection, returned to action for Watford in the League Championship, England's second division.

DeMerit played the entire second half in a 3-1 victory over Queen's Park Rangers to make just his sixth appearance of the season. He'd been out of action since late August, when a bit of dirt or grit got under one of his contact lenses and became infected. When the infection didn't respond to eye drops and antibiotics, scar tissue developed, and specialists recommended removal and replacement of the cornea.

DeMerit underwent surgery in London a few days after U.S. teammate Oguchi Onyewu suffered a ruptured patellar tendon against Costa Rica that will sideline him into the New Year. The pair formed a solid central defensive partnership last summer in the Confederations Cup as the Americans rallied from a poor start to beat Egypt and Spain before losing to Brazil, 3-2, in the final.

"It was great experience for me, to play in that competition while I was feeling fit, while I was sharp, while I was playing well," says DeMerit. "I was feeling good and we were doing well as a team, so it was a great summer for everybody."

Their different characteristics, physically and psychologically, complement each other.

 

"The good thing about Gooch and I and how we play together is we're different center [backs]," says DeMerit. "He's physically dominating, he uses his head, he uses his body very well, where I'll be more in terms of playing on the front foot and not letting people play, rather than let them get the ball and trying to wrestle with him.

"I don't have reason to do that because that's not my strength. I try to nip in front of people. I want to get the ball and be a pest. The better balance we have the better it will be for the team."

His return to action comes as Watford labors through a financial crisis. Chairman Jimmy Russo is seeking capital to meet its obligations and prevent the club from being declared insolvent. If it goes into administration, it would be docked 10 points and players could be sold during the January transfer window.

DeMerit's been the subject of transfer rumors in the past yet holds a special place in the heart of Hornet fans; his goal in the promotion playoffs lifted Watford into the Premier League for the just the second time, and though that one season (2006-07) ended in relegation, it also drew the attention of U.S. coach Bob Bradley.

Along with the spirit and tenacity that brought him up from the ranks of English semi-pro soccer to the national team, he's displayed a commitment to teamwork from day one. Whether or not he's a starter, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which Bradley doesn't take a healthy DeMerit to South Africa.

"I've always understood my role to be a part of the group and one thing Bob always stresses is that the group is what matters and you have to understand that," he says. "All of us do. But ultimately you want to be out there, too. You want to be part of that number, that first XI, and it was great for me to do that and have that opportunity. You do grow in confidence.

"They talk about how important it is for forwards to have confidence and when they do they can go on a hot streak, but it's just as important for defenders as well. It puts out fires before they start and that would be the role I would play, to stop chances before they happen. When you feel sharp, when you feel confident, you can do that, you can read things a bit quicker. That's the type of center [back] I'd like to play."

 



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