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McBride voted Fulham's best player; Convey, Hahnemann rated best at their positions.

Stewart returns to NAC Breda to become technical director.

Berhalter, Cottbus clinch promotion with 3-1 win over München.

Everton gains Howard, making loan deal with Manchester United.

DeMerit stands out; Watford advances to promotion final.

Gibbs signs with Charlton; Lewis, Leeds United advance in promotion quest.

Lewis free kick gives Leeds 1-1 draw with North End in playoff opener.

Friedel, Rovers are heading to Europe after 1-0 decision over Chelsea.

Hahnemann, Convey help Reading close season with record.

Berhalter penalty kick moves Cottbus to brink of promotion.

Hahnemann, Convey are back in action as Reading nears record.

Beasley fined $1,852 by Dutch judge for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Spector will have surgery to repair dislocated shoulder.

Americans Abroad

DeMerit, Lewis meet with life in Premier League at stake.

Jay DeMerit
Jay DeMerit has played a key role to help Watford advance to Sunday's promotion final against Leeds United.
Watford FC web site photo --
By Gary Davidson (in Washington, D.C.)
SoccerTimes

(Saturday, May 20, 2006) -- There will be a dramatic meeting of Americans in England Sunday.

United States midfielder Eddie Lewis and Leeds United face American defender Jay DeMerit and Watford in the English League Championship promotion playoffs final at Millenium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, with an invitation to the Premier League going to the winner. The loser must return for another year in the second division.

Stepping up to the Premiership could mean $56-75 million or more in additional annual revenue to the winner, according to a BBC Sports estimate, much coming from television revenue, along with larger crowds at games and greater recognition and respect (and presumably first-class treatment and attendant financial benefits) for the players.

"I'm really excited about the final. These are the challenges you live for as a professional athlete," DeMerit told Andrew Rogers of USA Today. "It's something you dream of. There is also the implication of failure, so of course all kinds of things enter your head. I've spent 10 months this season training six times a week to get to this point. I'm going to enjoy it and hopefully it will lead to bigger and better things."

The game brings many interesting angles. There is North (Leeds) vs. South (Watford). Then there is first-year Watford manager Adrian (Aidy) Boothroyd, who was hired by current Leeds boss Kevin Blackwell as an assistant in July 2005.

"I've worked with (Blackwell), I know what he's like under pressure and I think that might give me a slight edge," said Boothroyd, 35, to BBC Sports. "Mind you, he'd probably say he's spent ($22.5 million) and he's manager of Leeds United and that gives him an edge. Regardless of that, for me to finish off the season we have to cap it off with promotion."

And then there is the battle of Americans. DeMerit has never represented his nation, while Lewis has been a fixture with the U.S. men since 1999, a star in the Americans' advancement to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals and a projected starter at next month's Germany 2006.

"The World Cup would have been right for him," Boothroyd said of DeMerit to USA Today. "If I was (U.S. manager) Bruce Arena, I would have taken him with me. But I am delighted he can concentrate on the final."

DeMerit was not well-known as a youth and college player in the States, and went to England without the guarantee of a contract. He struggled before earning a job with Watford. "I understand the circumstances that I have come from and what it takes to be involved in the national team," he told USA Today. "You need to be involved in the camps and I have just come out of nowhere. I did not grow up playing at the really high level."

Lewis had to leave the U.S. World Cup training camp in Cary, N.C. Monday and return to England to prepare for tomorrow's big contest.

For Watford, what a difference a year meant. The Hornets faced the fear of relegation to the third-tier League One throughout the 2004-05 season, finishing 18th in the 24-club league at 12-18-16 with 52 points, only two points though four positions above the relegation zone. Boothroyd replaced the popular Ray Lewington as manager after the season.

Leeds didn't do much better a season ago with a 14-14-18 record and 60 points, good for 14th place.

Reading, with U.S. goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann and midfielder Bobby Convey making important contributions, and Sheffield United held the top two spots in the League Championship (with the resulting automatic promotion berths) all season, though Sheffield faded at the end giving Leeds some hope of moving up.

Leeds and Watford held the next two positions in the standings all year and advanced to the four-team playoff for the third invitation to the Premiership. In the semifinals, Leeds opened the two-match series with a disappointing 1-1 draw with Preston United May 5, but won 2-0 on the road three days later to claim a 3-1 aggregate triumph.

Watford opened the semifinals with a 3-0 road victory May 6 over Crystal Palace, then advanced three days later with a 0-0 draw at home for the 3-0 aggregate decision.

Watford, however, saw Boothroyd ejected for interfering with Palace defender Fitz Hall's effort to retrieve a ball for a throw-in, according to ESPN Soccernet, in a match that degenerated into a brawl. Boothroyd was not suspended for tomorrow's final, but the club faces disciplinary action for its role in the extracurricular activities.

Watford closed the regular season 2-0-3 in its last five outings, climbing into third place at 22-9-15 with 81 points. Leeds (21-10-15, 78 points) slipped to fifth by managing only one victory (1-3-6) in its last 10 regular-season matches.

Watford used the playoffs to advance to the Premier League once before, eliminating Birmingham City in the semifinals and Bolton Wanderers 2-0 in the 1999 final at Wembley. The Hornets spent just one season in the top division, placing dead last at 6-26-6 with 24 points.

Leeds is only five years from having advanced to the European Champions League semifinals before falling 3-0 in the second leg and in aggregate at Valencia of Spain. The club then went into a decline that culminated two years ago with demotion from the Premiership and near financial ruin.

Now, Leeds' fiscal house is back in order and hopes to resume its proud Premier League history.

The two teams drew 0-0 October 1 at Watford. On February 14, Leeds prevailed 2-1 at home in a match that saw Watford reduced to nine men by the final whistle. Leeds leads the all-time series between the clubs 5-4-3.

Gary Davidson is SoccerTimes publisher and managing editor.

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