DAVID SMITH - Monday, June 20, 2016
The first two qualifying rounds of the Champions and Europa Leagues were set on Monday, giving a small handful of Yanks their initial destinations on the long road to the group stage.
Currently, there are no Americans competing in the early rounds of Champions League qualification; Fabian Johnson will be the first to enter the fray in early-August when the final play-off for qualification to the group stage takes place.
The Europa League draw, however included a total of five teams featuring six Americans, who will begin their task of navigating three qualifying rounds and a final play-off round over the next two-plus months on the way to group play.
The first game in the two-legged round will be played on June 30, with the return leg one week later. This will be immediately followed by the second qualifying round occurring over the subsequent two Thursdays.
Perry Kitchen will likely still be on a break when Heart of Midlothian faces off against fourth-place Estonian team FC Infonet, as his time with the US National Team in the Copa América tournament will not finish until a few days before the first game.
His post-tournament break could additionally extend to the second round, where Hearts, should they emerge victorious, will play the winner of the tie between Bosnian team NK Široki Brijeg and Maltese team Birkirkara FC.
Cole Grossman and Stabæk could, despite suffering a horrible ongoing domestic term, have an advantage over Welsh side Connah's Quay Nomads FC due to already being in the middle of their season. The team is currently on a much-needed short midseason summer break.
Should they shake off their poor form and beat their Welsh counterparts, they will face either Montenegro side FK Bokelj or Serbians FK Vojvodina.
Finish team RoPS has a pair of American players with backup keeper Tyler Back and starting winger Will John. Back has only featured sparingly in domestic cup competition and with the reserves, while John has been a major contributor in Veikkausliiga play and should see action against Irish opponents Shamrock Rovers.
A victory will see them face off against either Andorrans UE Santa Coloma or Croatians NK Lokomotiva.
Another Finnish team - IFK Mariehamn - should have their American attacker Brian Span on the field when they take on Norwegians Odds BK. A win will send them south for a matchup with Greek sixth-place finishers PAS Giannina FC.
Finally, Sachem Wilson, who recently signed with Slovenians ND Gorica, will see his team face a tough two games with Israeli powerhouse Maccabi Tel-Aviv. Should they come out victorious, they may be forced rack up even more frequent flyer miles in the second round should Kazakhstan team FC Kairat overcome their Albanian opponents KF Teuta Durrës.
Europa League first qualifying round draw
FC Infonet Tallinn - Heart of Midlothian FC
Stabæk - Connah's Quay Nomads FC
Shamrock Rovers FC - RoPS
Odds BK - IFK Mariehamn
Maccabi Tel-Aviv - ND Gorica