It may not be possible to dislike Jay DeMerit.
The Green Bay native's story is as compelling as it comes in sport, and his determination and self-belief have no doubt propelled his career to heights the player had no place going – if the realists had any say.
And so, as the Vancouver Whitecaps announced the centre back's return this week for 2014, it was a story largely of positivity. A sigh of relief for a club hoping to put the messy Camilo transfer saga in the rear view mirror.
Yet, the club captain's return does not come without risk.
In Major League Soccer's salary cap system, every dollar counts, and re-signing a player with an injury history as troubling as DeMerit's represents a gamble.
First there was the club's ill-fated 2011 season, where DeMerit missed a third of the season with a recurrent groin issue, and then there was last year's disaster, where he missed all but the last seven games of the season after rupturing his Achilles tendon on opening day.
While no numbers have officially been released, it's understood that DeMerit has taken a pay cut – but just how severe the reduction is remains unknown.
If it is a significant drop from the $375,000 he earned in 2013, he may prove a bargain if he stays fit. Realistically it's difficult to imagine the player making less than $200,000 this season, and any player who misses significant time on that kind of money really does hurt a team.
But here is the reality – when fit, DeMerit is among the league's best defenders. Strong in the air and decisive in the tackle, the former U.S. international can be an All-Star once again in 2014 if he can ward off the injury bug.
To play as well as he did after overcoming his career threatening Achilles rupture last year showed once again the man's ability to defy reality as we know it and once again create his own.
If that sounds hyperbolic so be it – his soccer story is quite frankly absurd.
Beyond the player's on-field prowess when fit, there is the harsh truth that he is Vancouver's only recognizable, marketable player – the only player of similar renown in the club's MLS history is the recently retired Lee Young-Pyo.
Some will likely bring up Nigel Reo-Coker and Kenny Miller to counter that point, but if you ask a non-MLS fan in Vancouver to list which Whitecaps players they know, the list will likely start and end with Jay DeMerit.
So who cares about the non-MLS fan? Well, everybody interested in growing the game here should – more and more people are showing an interest in the team as time moves along, and keeping the one face with any pull in this city is essential.
There's also an argument to be made that Vancouver should look to keep a significant chunk of its squad together. It looks as if the turnover will be about a third of the squad come season's start. Sure this team didn't make the playoffs in 2013, but it wasn't abysmal either.
Tinkering, and not a total rebuild, is what the situation calls for.
Getting rid of DeMerit and bringing in a similarly priced older centre back would likely fall under the category of change for change's sake, and that isn't what the Whitecaps need any more of.
Given the youth movement under way in Vancouver, with a good chunk of the squad 23 years old or younger, keeping an old head such as DeMerit's around is of value.
While there's an appeal to a squad full of hungry, energetic youngsters, when the grind of the MLS season sets in, the value of hardened veterans such as DeMerit often becomes apparent.
Regardless of how the 2014 season goes for the Whitecaps, it's difficult to say bringing back DeMerit isn't a risk worth taking.
- Sports & Recreation