Sunday, May 21, 2006
Well, that just about does it. As success stories go, it officially doesn't get any better than the Jay DeMerit saga.

On Sunday, the Wisconsin native started in the center of the Watford defense in what was arguably the biggest game in the last quarter-century of the club's 125 year history against one of England's most storied clubs, in front of 65,000 fans - mostly Leeds United supporters - and proceeded to have one of the most inspired performances of his still young career.

DeMerit scored the opening goal of the hectic match off of a powerful header from five yards out after a run that a stone wall wouldn't have stopped to give Watford a lead they would never relinquish. He also anchored the defense that held Leeds scorelesss enabling his side to come away with a convincing three goal victory.

The roar audible from the crowd when DeMerit's strike rippled the back of the net said everything you needed to know about what was at stake in this final match of the Coca-Cola Championship.

With the win, the Hornets are heading back to the Premiership for the first time in seven years, capping a two-year ride for the 26 year-old from Green Bay that no one could have - or would have - dared predict upon his arrival in England.

The only thing left for DeMerit to do now is head off to Disney World, though Jay has other ideas in mind for his Watford side.

"We'll take [our team spirit] into next season and work hard," DeMerit told the BBC minutes after the game. "Hopefully we can keep going up."

Jay, you can finally take a break. There is no more going up after this. You've made it. You'll be playing at the pinnacle of English soccer in less than three months.

It might have been the moment that left an obviously elated DeMerit tongue-tied, but you have to forgive him for setting what others might call impossible goals - nothing has stopped him so far.

So if Jay DeMerit says they're going up again next year, well then hell, my money is on Watford gaining promotion to the 2007 Superliga Eredivisiepremierbundeserie A.

It was just three years ago that DeMerit decided to try his luck in the world of English soccer. Coming only at the suggestion of a former coach and no professional experience at all, the odds were certainly against him.

Playing with Northwood of the Ryman Premier League (Northwood finished 129 places below Watford last season) in the summer of 2004 in a friendly scrimmage versus Watford, DeMerit so impressed then coach Ray Lewington with his handling of their two first team forwards, he earned a tryout with the suburban London Club.

Though he wasn't playing with the first team to begin with, he got his chance during a friendly meeting with Spanish La Liga side Real Zaragoza a few weeks later. DeMerit played the entire match when he expected to play five minutes and the next day Lewington told him that Watford would be offering him a contract.

Very few had given him the chance to make it that far and there isn't a soul alive who would have tabbed the then-23-year old for the exploits that would follow. He was thrust into a starter's position just two months into the season when Watford's then captain went down; he earned a two-year extension just a few weeks later and eventually would wear the captain's armband for a preseason match versus who else, Northwood.

DeMerit even underwent what has often been the 'kiss of death' for many an unknown player when Watford changed head coaches and hired Aidy Boothroyd to save the club from relegation last year.

When the new manager promised to rid the club of its it's old and/or squeaky wheels, the young defender was not listed among the casualties and was told that he would be an integral part of what Boothroyd was hoping to build at Watford.

The fiery manager wasn't giving any free rides, however, and an early season stretch on the bench in favor of newcomer Malky Mackay seemed to solidify that point. Playing in the reserves, the American was surprised and unhappy, but his reaction was typical.

"Competition is healthy," he told YA at the time.

DeMerit was dealt another blow when after watching three games from the bench, he suffered an injury in training that would keep him out for another three weeks.

Finally, after a little more than six weeks injured, on the bench or toiling in the Watford reserves, DeMerit found himself back in the lineup in mid-October.

Aside from missing out on the opening kickoff for a couple of games in mid-January due to the holiday schedule glut, DeMerit has been a fixture in the backline ever since.

It's probably because Boothroyd sees a bit of himself in DeMerit.

While DeMerit has had to prove day in and day out that he belongs playing against whoever it happens to be on the other side, Boothroyd has had to prove it on the sideline.

The goal that he achieved with a side that believes so much in him, had the Watford brass 'falling out of their chairs' prior to the season according to the young manager when he boldly predicted that promotion was possible.

Boothroyd is clearly a big fan of his defender, evidenced by the fact that he has not only made DeMerit the anchor of a defense that gave up only one goal in the playoffs, but has also trotted DeMerit out to play both right and left back positions and even once gave him the nod at striker.

Just three years ago, DeMerit was playing at local parks in a Sunday pub league for 20 a week. In a few months he will playing in the Premiership with an estimated television audience of 600 million.

Week in and week out he will be given the task of defending against some of the best attackers in the world, such stars Thierry Henry, Dider Drogba, Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen, just to name a few.

After all of this, it's hard to believe that there are people still rooting against him.

In our own poll on Yanks Abroad, an overwhelming 70% stated they wished for Leeds United and Eddie Lewis to gain promotion, with the general consensus from our readers' emails being that DeMerit isn't good enough for the Premiership anyway.

It would be nice to hear what DeMerit would have to say to all of that, but he's more the type to show what he can do on the field. He again proved that on Sunday.

The whispers that DeMerit isn't good enough for the Premiership started long before the playoff final, and with the windfall expected Watford, you can be sure that the Green Bay native won't be given a chance by those same whisperers to beat out any talent that Watford brings in to shore up their defense.

I wouldn't count him out just yet.

DeMerit has been hearing - and ignoring - these whisperers for a long time.