Cup finals are what players and fans live for. Win one and it can be the greatest day of your life, lose and you feel like crawling into a hole. I should know. As a fan of the English team Luton Town FC I have seen my team go to three cup finals in recent seasons, witnessing a win and two losses. The victory will go down as one of my most cherished memories, whereas the losses are something I’d rather forget.
Whitecaps FC have their own cup final coming up with the Amway Canadian Championship decider next week, so the sole focus for the team during the bye week will be gearing up for the match against Montreal Impact.
That is to say, for everyone apart from injured club captain Jay DeMerit who this Monday will be rooting for his former team Watford FC as they take part in the English Football League Championship Playoff Final , taking on Crystal Palace, before cheering on the Blue and White in Wednesday’s match against Montreal.
For the uninitiated, my Luton team and Watford have a bit of history. Theirs is a rivalry that has been described by some as the fiercest in English football so you can imagine my personal displeasure at asking DeMerit to relive the last time Watford competed in the Championship Playoff Final, when the defender scored the first goal and was named Man of the Match in a 3-0 victory against Leeds United.
DeMerit leads Watford in Championship playoff final (0:53)
Imagine getting Reggie Lambe to talk you through his winner in the 2012 ACC Final for Toronto FC or asking Sanna Nyassi what it felt like to win the US Open Cup with two goals in the final for Seattle Sounders FC and you get the picture.
But as a staunch ‘Caps supporter and employee, I did so in respect to DeMerit …but only as ‘Caps captain.
“As a player that’s the kind of occasion that you dream about. You always want to try to find yourself in a final,” DeMerit explained. “A cup final is something that not many players will experience, but to be on the winning end of a cup final is unlike any other experience.”
Watford were riding the crest of a wave after a phenomenal second half of the 2005/06 season when they recorded 11 wins in the final 19 games to secure a playoff spot. They dispatched Monday’s opponents Crystal Palace with a 3-0 win away before confirming their place in the final with a 0-0 draw against the Eagles at Vicarage Road.
“We were pretty confident but nobody gave us a chance because Leeds was the big club in the final; they sold their tickets within 10 minutes of them being released,” DeMerit continued. “They were the massive favourites, but we had this quiet confidence about us and we felt like the underdog which took a little bit of the pressure off us.”
DeMerit and his team went on to confound expectations with a comfortable 3-0 win in Cardiff’s Millenium Stadium in front of 64,736 fans. It was the American who popped up with the opening goal in a moment DeMerit surely never tires of recounting.
“To score the first goal to get us going, somebody needs to do it and I was just happy that it was me,” recalls DeMerit. “Ashley Young put in a great ball and it was just one of those moments where you don’t feel any crowd around you, you don’t feel anyone else in the box. It’s just you trying to get on the end of that ball and sure enough I just heard this big thump and a huge roar from the crowd.”
Jay DeMerit Uber Fan
Scoring a goal in a cup final as your team wins is as good as it gets for any professional soccer player and DeMerit will be hoping that one of his Whitecaps FC teammates writes a similar piece of history in next week’s Amway Canadian Championship final. For his fellow ‘Caps, he has some words of wisdom ahead of the crunch match against Montreal.
“When you’re the team that stays calm, when you’re the team that stays together and sticks to the game plan, you’re normally the team that comes out right in the end,” DeMerit advises.
“Concentrate on being together for the whole 90 plus minutes and use our crowd to our advantage. Having the second leg at home after the last couple of years being in Toronto I think will be a great advantage for us and our fans need to come and be ready to be that 12th man.”
DeMerit will be taking up what has become his usual spot in the stands at BC Place: “I’ll be sitting with the fans and hopefully after the game I’ll be on the field with the team lifting the cup.”
As for the Vancouver’s captain’s former side and their match on Monday?
“It would be great to see the team back in the big time. When you leave the club you become a fan of the club and every fan wants to see their team in the Premiership. I’m no different, so I’ll be cheering from afar and I wish them all the best.”
Personally, I do not wish the best for Watford. But I do hope that a historic victory for Whitecaps FC next week soothes the pain of their playoff disappointment for DeMerit.
Come on you Eagles and come on you ‘Caps!