It sounds like the start of a bad joke: Bill Clinton walks into a locker room with a cooler full of Budweiser after the U.S. national soccer team wins a World Cup match.
But it happened.
It was the 2010 World Cup, and the United States had just beaten Algeria on a last minute goal to win their group for their first-ever time.
Former U.S. national team defender Jay DeMerit laughs at the memory of the post-match story.
“I was getting my tongue stitched up in the locker room after we had finished and Bill Clinton came in, rolling a cooler of Budweiser. We cracked some Budweisers with Bill in the locker room, just celebrating,” said DeMerit.
The 2010 World Cup was redemption time for the U.S. After a disappointing 2006 World Cup in Germany under Bruce Arena, Bob Bradley was appointed and led them to success.
Under Bradley, they were a blend of Major League Soccer and European experience, with an ethos of hard work drilled in to them.
“One of Bob’s greatest qualities was getting a group of guys that played well together,” says DeMerit. “He really knew how to put an 11 out there and work together.”
The squad at that point had largely been together through several tournament cycles, and DeMerit said Bradley’s dedication to putting out a team that worked together over picking the most well known names benefited the team.
“He stuck with guys like myself, when at the time I wasn’t a big name. He just knew I fit into the team dynamics better than other guys,” said DeMerit.
He says Bradley was constantly studying game tape, breaking down plays and trying to find spots the U.S. could capitalize on.
“Bob is a really cerebral guy, he was always looking for ways for us to improve,” said DeMerit.
For DeMerit, the call-up capped off his time at Watford F.C.
He had started playing in England at 21-years-old, turning out for non-league side Southall before working his way up the footballing pyramid.
He captained Watford and scored the goal that sent them to the Premier League in 2006.
Entering the World Cup, DeMerit had a solid season for Watford in the 2009-2010 season of the Championship, but he tried to not take his position on the team for granted.
“You really try to not mentally pack your bags before you’re there, you know?”, he said.
For some, the pressure of the opening match against England might have been overwhelming. But for a man who says he thrived on pressure, it was actually a special moment for him.
“I learned my trade in England,” said DeMerit. “That country gave me my professional life so it was extra special.”
DeMerit’s agent actually represented both DeMerit and England goalkeeper Robert Green – the latter obviously has mixed feelings about that opening match.
“It was an interesting day for him,” he says laughing.
Winning the group was a big step for a team that hadn’t yet received a lot of attention on the world stage.
“I think any time you can do something that hasn’t been done before and have it become a standard is a good thing,” he said.
The Americans would eventually fall to a Asamoah Gyan-inspired Ghana, but could look back with pride on their run.
“Unfortunately after that, things turned for the worse for U.S. soccer,” he said.
Looking at the current debacle the American men’s national team faces, DeMerit wonders if that spirit of hard work and teamwork that was a mainstay under Bradley has been forgotten by successive coaching picks.
Since retiring from the professional game, DeMerit has turned his attention to design. He is the co-founder of Portmanteau Stereo Co. – a company that makes stereos using reclaimed British Columbia wood as well as vintage suitcases.
He’s also looking to give back through football. Along with his wife – Olympic gold medallist Ashleigh McIvor – DeMerit has created “Captains Camps,” which is dedicated to helping youth.
The camp brings in mentors – ranging from helicopter pilots to CEOs – to teach teenagers about achieving their goals.
“We plant a lot of seeds in their brains about what they can become. Traditional youth soccer systems are just telling them how to become a good soccer player, not a successful individual,” he says.
Looking back now at the summer days in 2010, and the beers with Clinton, DeMerit laughs.
“It was pretty American,” he says of the memory.
For the Green Bay, Wisconsin defender who started his career in non-league, being able to experience a World Cup is a memory he’ll always savour.
“For a player, representing your national team is the goal. Then once you represent your national team, the ultimate goal is to play in the World Cup and play in the world’s biggest sporting event,” he said.