With the playoff round of Europa League starting up this week, I thought I would give a quick rundown on which Americans are still in the competition plus some brief information on the opposing teams. The playoff round is a two-legged home-and-home series and the last step before the Group Stage kicks in during the month of September.
Bursaspor vs. Anderlecht (Sacha Kljestan)
Sacha Kljestan and Anderlecht enter the competition and travel to Turkey for the first leg on Thursday. Bursaspor advanced to the playoff round after defeating Belarusian side FC Gomel 5-2 on aggregate in the third qualifying round. After losing the first league game of the season, Anderlecht have won each of their last two games and sit in second place of the Belgian Pro League table.
Bursaspor Fun Fact: Their first European vacation took them to the quarterfinals of the 1974–75 European Cup Winners’ Cup before losing to Dinamo Kiev.
Heart of Midlothian vs. Tottenham Hotspur (Brad Friedel)
Brad Friedel and Spurs will be looking to play their first meaningful game of the season after their Premier League opener against Everton was postponed due to the riots in London. They will be facing a Scottish club that defeated Paks from Hungary 5-2 on aggregate in the third qualifying round.
Heart of Midlothian Fun Fact: Commonly known as Hearts, they are the last team not named Rangers or Celtic to finish in the Top 2 of the Scottish Premier League when they finished second in 2005-06. Their last SPL title came in 1959-60.
Maribor vs. Rangers (Maurice Edu)
After being knocked out of Champions League, Rangers will now play a team from Slovenia that was also knocked out of Champions League. Maribor won last year’s Slovenian PrvaLiga and are currently in first place again this year through five games. As for Rangers, they enter Thursday’s contest with a pair of 2-0 victories in each of its last two league games.
Maribor Fun Fact: Maribor is one of only three Slovenian clubs who have never been relegated from Slovenian top flight 1. SNL since its establishment in 1991.
FC Nordsjælland (Michael Parkhurst) vs. Sporting CP (Oguchi Onyewu)
It will be a battle of American center backs if both see the field on Thursday in the first leg. Both teams will be entering the competition for the first time as FC Nordsjælland earned their place by winning last year’s Danish Cup, while Sporting CP earned their spot by finishing third in last year’s Primeira Liga.
FC Nordsjælland Fun Fact: Founded as Farum Boldklub from the merger of the town’s two clubs Farum IK and Stavnsholt BK in 1991, the club changed its name to F.C. Nordsjælland in 2003.
Sporting CP Fun Fact: Héctor Yazalde (1973-74, 46 goals) and Mário Jardel (2001-02, 42 goals) have won the European Golden Shoe (award presented each season to the leading goalscorer in league matches from the top division of every European national league) whilst playing for Sporting CP.
Fulham (Clint Dempsey) vs. Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk
Since entering the competition in the first qualifying round, Thursday’s contest will mark Fulham’s seventh game already in Europa League. Clint Dempsey and the Cottagers will be hosting a team from Ukraine that will be playing their first game in this year’s competition. While they haven’t played any games in Europe as of yet, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk are 2-2-2 through their first six league games and sit in ninth place out of the 16-team Ukrainian Premier League.
Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk Fun Fact: Their current manager, Juande Ramos, was the manager of Tottenham prior to their current manager, Harry Redknapp, took control of the team in 2008.
Celtic (Dominic Cervi) vs. FC Sion
Howie might not think he exists, but Dominic Cervi should be on the bench when Celtic hosts Swiss side FC Sion on Thursday. Much like Celtic, Sion enter the competition in the playoff round after winning their domestic cup (2010-11 Swiss Cup) last year. They enter Thursday’s game with only one win in their last four games, while Celtic have won each of their last two games.
FC Sion Fun Fact: FC Sion has the distinction of never having lost a Cup final in Switzerland, having won all 12 of their Swiss Cup final appearances.
Nacional vs. Birmingham City (Jonathan Spector & Will Packwood)
Despite being relegated last year from the Premier League, Birmingham City earned a playoff round spot in this year’s Europa League after winning the Carling Cup. Jonathan Spector will be looking to make his Birmingham City debut as they head to Portugal to take on Nacional. Nacional entered the competition in the second qualifying round, but have defeated FH (Iceland) and Häcken (Sweden) along the way.
Nacional Fun Fact: Cristiano Ronaldo played in Nacional’s youth system between 1995 and 1997.
Aalesund vs. AZ (Jozy Altidore)
Jozy Altidore will be looking to make his European debut with AZ after appearing in two games and scoring one goal during league play since joining the Eredivisie club. AZ made it to the playoff round after defeating Czech side Jablonec 3-1 on aggregate in the third qualifying round. AZ will be headed to Norway on Thursday to face a team that is only in this year’s Europa League based on UEFA Fair Play rankings much like Fulham. Since entering in the first qualifying round, Aalesund have knocked off Neath (Wales), Ferencváros (Hungary) and Elfsborg (Sweden).
Aalesund Fun Fact: Current Fulham players (and brothers) John Arne Riise and Bjørn Helge Riise started their careers at Aalesund.
Hannover 96 (Steve Cherundolo) vs. Sevilla
After sitting out this past weekend, Steve Cherundolo should hopefully be in the lineup when Hannover 96 host Spanish side Sevilla. Between league play and the DFB Pokal, Hannover 96 have won all three games so far in 2011-12. They will be playing a team that finished fifth in last year’s La Liga.
Sevilla Fun Fact: Sevilla is owned by its fans, with the stocks distributed across a few major holders and a large base of fans.
HJK Helsinki vs. Schalke (Jermaine Jones)
While his status with the club is not 100% sure, Jermaine Jones is still with Schalke and has appeared in two of their three games in 2011-12. The German club will be traveling to Finland on Thursday to face last year’s Finnish Veikkausliiga champions. HJK enter the playoff round after being knocked out of Champions League by Dinamo Zagreb.
HJK Helsinki Fun Fact: HJK is the most succesful Finnish club with 23 league titles as well as 10 cup titles.