(CNN) -- U.S. defender Jay DeMerit became the first Major League Soccer signing of the Vancouver Whitecaps on Thursday, with the Canadian club set to join the lucrative North American football franchise at the start of the 2011 season.
The Whitecaps were unveiled as part of the MLS in March 2009, one of three clubs from across Canada who bid for a place in the league as part of its ongoing expansion program.
New signing DeMerit has spent the last six years at English Championship side Watford, but his contract at the London-based club -- who played in the Premier League in the 2006/07 season -- expired in June.
The 30-year-old -- who has played 23 times for his country, including at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa where the U.S. reached the last 16 of the competition -- told the official MLS website that he was excited about playing for a new team.
"Vancouver ticked pretty much every box that I could think of as to what I wanted. An aspiring club trying to be a part of something new and something special," Wisconsin-born DeMerit told the official MLS website
"There's something inspiring about being a part of something new and having ambition to make it even bigger. I feel I'm in the right place and I'm looking forward to getting started."
Awarded top allocation ranking, the Vancouver-based team had priority in signing any U.S. international returning to the country to play in MLS and club president Bob Lenarduzzi was quick to express his delight at having snapped up DeMerit on the Whitecaps official website
"Jay is the type of player we are looking to build our team with," he said.
"He has excelled both at the club and international levels, and we are thrilled that Jay has joined Whitecaps FC as our first Major League Soccer player signing."
The Whitecaps will start their inaugural MLS season playing at Vancouver's Empire stadium, before moving into the new BC Place stadium on the outskirts of the western Canadian city.