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

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 goal sparks Watford past Leeds 3-0 to join Premier League.

Jay DeMerit
Jay DeMerit put Watford ahead for good with a goal in the 25th minute in the decisive 3-0 win over Leeds.
Watford FC web site photo --
By Robert Wagman (in Washington, D.C.)

(Sunday, May 21, 2006) -- Before this English League Championship season began, Watford would have seemed a more likely candidate for relegation than promotion. However, powered by American Jay DeMerit's decisive first-half goal, the Hornets crushed Leeds United 3-0 to capture the promotion playoffs final before 64,736 at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, this afternoon.

Watford, which finished 18th in the 24-club League Championship in 2004-05, only two points above the relegation zone, suddenly is a member of the Premier League. "You don't think these things can happen, but you've always got to believe in something," DeMerit said. "Today was a testament to hard work and everything else that comes along with it. It's a great day for everyone."

The club's good fortune came at the expense of Leeds and its United States midfielder Eddie Lewis, who will spend a third season in the second division.

The Millennium Stadium field was in miserable condition following the Rugby Union's Heineken Cup final, played yesterday in a driving rain with the stadium roof open. The roof was closed for today's soccer final, but the heavy turf on the deeply pitted pitch made it difficult for either team establish any continuous rhythm in the early going.

The turning point came when Ashley Young sent a left-side corner kick to the far post. DeMerit timed his run perfectly, rising to meet the ball and blasting a header past goalkeeper Neil Sullivan's outstretched grasp to make it 1-0 un the 25th minute.

"I enjoyed the goal for about 35 seconds and then it was back to my job," said DeMerit, who was named "Man of the Match." After the final whistle, the 26-year-old waved an American flag on the field as he soaked in the post-game atmosphere as the Watford supporters heartily sang. DeMerit's parents and brother were in the stands.

Leeds was never really in the game, reverting to its late-season form which saw it win only once in its final 10 matches (1-3-6) of the regular season, falling from third place to fifth. Lewis had a couple of free kick chances, sending one only inches over the crossbar just before halftime.

While the celebration is sure to continue for DeMerit, Lewis doesn't have time to dwell on the setback. He is scheduled to join the U.S. men tomorrow in Nashville and is slated to play one half of Tuesday's friendly against Morocco.

Watford was clearly the superior team over 90 minutes this afternoon, but also benefited from a bit of good fortune to add to its advantage in the 55th minute. Gavin Mahon's long throw from the left was settled by defender James Chambers, who was closely marked by Lewis. Chambers tried to turn and triggered an off-balance shot from eight yards out with the ball spinning off Lewis' leg and hitting the goal-post. The ball caromed off the back of Sullivan's outstretched arm and dribbled over the goal-line, the own goal putting Watford ahead 2-0.

Leeds couldn't manage to mount a comeback. Lewis had two chances, but both were turned away by Watford keeper Ben Foster. Watford finally sealed its spot in the top division (and additional revenue of $56-75 million, according to a BBC Sports estimate), with a penalty kick in the 84th minute after referee Mike Dean ruled that Leeds midfielder Shaun Derry took out the legs of Watford striker Marlon King with a slide tackle in the box.

Starting with DeMerit's interception in the defensive end, Watford moved the length of the field, leading to Derry's clumsy challenge. Darius Henderson powered the spot kick into the lower left corner to make it 3-0.

Watford used the promotion playoffs to make it to the Premiership once before, but spent only the 1999-2000 season in the first division, quickly demoted after finishing last at 6-26-6 with 24 points.

DeMerit sees a longer stay in the Premier League this time around. "You see the Wigans and the West Hams did it this year and we're no different," he said. "Team spirit is one thing that goes a very long way and that's one thing that we definitely have here. So we'll take that into next season and work hard and see if we can keep going."

Wigan and Wes Ham United moved up from the League Championship a year ago and finished 10th and ninth, respectively, this season in the Premiership.

DeMerit's personal success mirrors the surprising ascendancy of his club. Graduating the University of Illinois-Chicago with a degree in industrial design, he spent a year trying to find a team in England. He was in preseason training before the 2004-05 campaign with Northwood FC, which competed in the then-sixth-tier Premier Division of the Isthmian League, when the club faced Watford in a preseason friendly.

"That's a chance that you take," said DeMerit, whose hometown is Green Bay, Wisc. "I took those chances because I knew I could get to a situation like this and it just goes to show that if you believe in yourself, and other people believe in you, anything can happen."

Watford was impressed and signed him to a short-term contract which was soon extended to a three-year deal. In March 2005, he won the second annual Carling New Talent Award.

Promising Manchester United striker Giuseppe Rossi, who has Italian-American citizenship, placed second in the 2006 New Talent balloting behind Arsenal teen Arturo Lupoli.

DeMerit is one of three Americans moving up from the League Championship to the Premiership next season. Goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann and midfielder Bobby Convey helped Reading win the title in record fashion and earn automatic promotion along with runnerup Sheffield United.

Watford battled Leeds for third place for most of the season, prevailing when Leeds did its late fade. The Hornets finished 22-19-15 with 81 points, three ahead of Leeds (21-10-15)

Coach Adrian Boothroyd, who worked as an assistant to Leeds manager Kevin Blackwell for a year before replacing the popular Ray Lewington prior to this season, transformed Watford into a physical, scrappy team, not often elegant, but usually steady.

"We were the third best team all season and we were the third-best team today," Boothroyd said.

SoccerTimes publisher and managing editor Gary Davidson contributed to this story.

Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.

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