Two of the biggest stars in the Confederations Cup for the United States have been Jay DeMerit and Charlie Davies. Both are players that did not come up through the traditional development system for US Soccer (including the National Academy in Bradenton, Florida which neither attended) and both are players Bob Bradley avoided playing for long period of time on a regular basis. However, to Bradley’s credit he kept calling both players in USMNT camp, something Bruce Arena was unlikely to have done.
At a time when the US spends a remarkable amount of time and money on elite academies, and youth development, these two players have become highly capable internationals without coming through the system.
The pride of Titletown USA, Jay DeMerit attended the University of Illinois-Chicago leading the backline for the team. Undrafted in MLS and garnering little interest from A-League teams (USL-1), DeMerit signed with the Chicago Fire’s PDL side, in what is essentially the fourth tier of American football. At the suggestion of a team mate he went to England where he was eligible to play without a work permit thanks to his Danish grandfather.
Playing for essentially an eight division Sunday league side DeMerit gained the notice of Watford FC during a summer friendly match and after a successful trial signed for Watford. DeMerit helped push the side towards promotion to the Premiership in 2005-06 but Bruce Arena, the US manager did not notice.
DeMerit seemed to be completely off the US radar even when he scored the winning goal in the playoff final to clinch Watford’s elevation to the top flight. Under Bob Bradley, DeMerit has been called into camp regularly but has not been given much of a chance to show his quality in a meaningful game situation.
Carlos Bocanegra’s injury against Honduras gave DeMerit the opening for this Confederations Cup that he has taken advantage of.
I had noticed in Copa America 2007 that DeMerit seemed to be better positioned as a center back at the international level than many long time internationals. Sadly, that Copa team was destroyed even though they did have some good moments which were forgotten in the post mortem attacks on US Soccer’s decision to send a “B” team to the competition. DeMerit for me was one of the bright spots of that team.
A top youth player in New Hampshire, Davies was seemingly off the radar for the US Youth National teams. Davies fine play at Boston College did get him a few U-20 call ups but in for the most part he was a below the radar player.
Playing for the Westchester Flames of the PDL during the 2006 season Davies gained the notice of several observers furthered that fall by his Hermann Trophy finalist season as a junior at Boston College.
Davies signed in Sweden with Hammarby after his junior season at BC and has been a star since. The only American who consistently scores goals in Europe, he had been viewed by Olympic coach Peter Nowak and full national team manager Bob Bradley as simply a late game counter attacking option. Davies has floated in and out of the US squad since June of 2007 when he was first called up for the a friendly against China.
Going back to the days of the American Soccer Show on CSRN, my co-host Dave Denholm and I almost made weekly pleas for the US to start Davies up front. A year later, Bradley finally granted our wish in a desperate situation against Egypt and the move paid immediate dividends.
Yesterday, against Spain, ranked #1 in the FIFA rankings, Davies speed and energy put the Spanish defense on their heels early, opening them up in a way not expected in the pre match analysis. I had predicted a tight match as our readers recall but much of my projection was based on historical factors including a lack of fear of Spain as a traditional power when compared to Brazil, Italy or Germany.
But the bottom line is Bradley got his tactics right something we haven’t been able to say with a great deal of confidence in the past. DeMerit’s tactical discipline and ball winning has allowed the US to keep its shape at the back more easily than when Carlos Bocanegra starts in the middle. Charlie Davies being inserted from the start of matches as an attacking option has allowed the US to not bunker and rely exclusively on counter attacking to generate scoring opportunities in the run of play.
Both these players who were below the radar even to many national team fans for years have emerged as indispensible parts of the first US team to reach the final match of a major FIFA competition ever.
LISTEN TO THE GAFFER’S INTERVIEW WITH JAY DEMERIT FROM MARCH 2007 BELOW