07/24/2014 02:56 EDT | Updated 09/23/2014 05:59 EDT

Jay DeMerit Retires From Soccer, Thanks Vancouver Whitecaps Fans

Vancouver Whitecaps' Jay DeMerit goes through a drill during the opening day of the MLS soccer team's training camp in Vancouver, B.C., on Monday January 24, 2011. The Whitecaps are one of two expansion teams joining MLS for the 2011 season. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck)
VANCOUVER - His career was built on making the right choices so it's no surprise Jay DeMerit knew the time had come to walk away from playing professional soccer.

DeMerit, the first player signed by the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps in 2010 and the Major League Soccer team's first captain, officially announced his retirement Thursday.

"When it makes sense, when it's right, it's not sad," the amiable DeMerit said during a news conference. "It's not something I am going to regret.

"It's something I am very proud of."

Being convinced he made the right decision didn't stop DeMerit from battling back tears at one point. He will continue to work with the Whitecaps as an ambassador but has other business interests in Vancouver.

"I am excited for the future," he said. "By no means is this the end."

Known for strong defensive and leadership skills, the centre back had a goal and one assist in 71 career games — 69 of which he started — with the Whitecaps. He logged a total of 5,928 minutes during his MLS career.

DeMerit spent six seasons with English club Watford FC before joining the Whitecaps. The 34-year-old American also appeared in 25 games with the U.S. national squad, starting four matches at the 2010 World Cup.

Two injuries in a 15-month span hobbled DeMerit.

In 2013, he missed most of the year with a torn Achilles tendon suffered in the season opener against Toronto FC. Last month, he tore a tendon in his left ankle in a 3-3 draw with the Philadelphia Union.

"I knew I was up against it," DeMerit said.

It was one day last week while watching the team practise that DeMerit began to question if he could return.

"Watching the guys play it just kind of dawned on me 'I think these days are over,'" he said. "I looked down and saw an ankle with one real tendon.

"I didn't think I had it in me anymore."

Later that day while sitting on a Vancouver beach, DeMerit decided to call it a career.

"I sat down on a log," he said. "At that exact second, after no other thought, I decided I was going to retire."

In a letter to fans posted on the Whitecaps' website, DeMerit said if he continued to play he risked damaging the reputation he spent years building.

"I've always been the kind of player who wears his heart on his sleeve and it's that heart that's telling me it's time to stop," he said. "If I can't be the player that I have always been, and play to a standard that I believe is high enough, then it's time for me to smile, say thank you and give my commitment to a new cause."

Vancouver president Bob Lenarduzzi said DeMerit's charm and charisma off the field played an important role in helping to raise soccer's profile in a market dominated by hockey and football.

"Jay gets the big picture," said Lenarduzzi. "He gets that in North America we are selling the sport."

DeMerit has made over 120 appearances on behalf of the Whitecaps.

"His willingness to participate in virtually any request we put in front of him has helped to strengthen our brand in the market place," said Lenarduzzi.

Coach Carl Robinson said DeMerit's competitive spirit helped mould the team.

"He's a sore loser," said Robinson. "He's a pain in the backside sometimes when it comes to training because he wants to win so much.

"He leads by example. Young players knew what was expected of them. If they stepped out of line, or didn't do the job properly, he would tell them."

DeMerit played college soccer at the University of Illinois-Chicago but was overlooked by pro scouts. He travelled to London with $1,200 in his pocket to pursue a soccer career.

In his letter he talked about being broke, "sharing bath water" with a friend and playing games with "nothing but a couple of cows and five people in the stands."

Eventually DeMerit would score the goal that sent Watford to the Premiership. He played in an FA Cup semifinal against Manchester United and a League Cup semifinal against Liverpool. He also played on the MLS all-star team that beat Chelsea.

In Vancouver he helped the Whitecaps become the first Canadian team to reach the MLS playoffs. The chance to be part of a new franchise appealed to DeMerit.

"I thought it was an amazing opportunity to be part of a blank canvas," he said. "Vancouver gave me that opportunity."

Playing in Vancouver also allowed DeMerit to meet his future wife, Olympic gold medallist skier Ashleigh McIvor. The couple were married last summer.

In his letter, DeMerit talked about what soccer gave him.

"I got to travel around the world, grace a few magazines and billboards, and got to see the soccer community come together and raise money to make a movie about my life," he said. "I got to talk about my beloved Green Bay Packers with Elton John while in my underwear and drink beers with Bill Clinton.

"I got to meet other amazing athletes and even got to marry the most beautiful Olympic gold medallist on the planet."

With one chapter of his life finished, DeMerit is anxious to see what the future holds.

"This isn't a career ender," he said. "It's a life starter."

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