DAVID SMITH - Friday, July 8, 2016
The field of Americans competing in Europa League qualification narrowed significantly this week, as Heart of Midlothian and RoPS were the only two teams to survive the first round.
FC Infonet Tallinn 2 - 4 Heart of Midlothian FC (agg. 3-6)
Perry Kitchen returned to Hearts starting lineup on Wednesday evening, helping the team to a dominating victory in Tallinn that sees them through to the second round of qualifying.
Hearts were almost immediately on the front foot, racing to a 2-0 lead inside of 10 minutes. In the second minute Callum Paterson rose high to head in a corner from Jamie Walker, then seven minutes later, Walker fired in a free kick which Igor Rossi headed home from short range.
Walker was again played the role of provider moments before the half when Alim Öztürk blasted in his cross from the edge of the six-yard box, although the former Turkish youth player was at fault when he turned a cross into his own net in the 51st minute for Tallinn's first score.
This was quickly cancelled when Rossi netted his second of the game, pouncing upon a loose ball following a free kick for the overall 4-1 lead.
Vladimir Voskoboinikov did pull one back for the hosts just past the hour mark to preserve a marginally respectable scoreline, but the day belonged to the Sottish side, who safely advanced on an aggregate 6-3 score.
The team will have little rest, as they face Maltese team Birkirkara FC in the second round, with the first leg already taking place on Thursday in Malta.
Jeunesse Esch 2 - 1 St. Patrick's Athletic (agg. 2-2)
Martin Ontiveros and Jeunesse Esch managed to grind out a late win on Tuesday evening against Irish visitors St. Patrick's Athletic, however saw their short European campaign after their opponents advanced on the tiebreaker of away goals.
The Austin, Texas native started the game and played through the 88th minute before being subbed out for a last-second attacking option in forward Andre Deidda.
The Luxembourgish side were in a precarious position due to their lack of away goals from the first-leg 1-0 loss, although started off well when forward Patrick Stumpf controlled a long throw-in and managed to beat his defender for the opening score in the 22nd minute.
Against the odds, they held onto the even aggregate 1-1 scoreline, enough to force overtime, until they were done in by their inability to defend against set pieces late in the game.
Directly after a near miss by St. Patricks on a free kick in the 72nd minute, Darren Dennehy rose high to connect with Keith Treacy's corner, sending his looping header into Jeunesse's goal to give the visitors an insurmountable advantage.
Needing now two goals to advance, the hosts did manage to make things interesting when Stumpf pulled one back in the 87th minute. However, their final onslaught in the last minutes yielded no further breakthroughs, with Adrien Portier's dismissal for a second booking in the 94th minute effectively ending their charge.
The result ends the Luxembourgish team's European adventure after the typical two games, although they can take the positive that they came within minutes of advancing. Their domestic season will begin in a matter of weeks.
RoPS 1 - 1 Shamrock Rovers FC (agg. 3-1)
Will John started and assisted on the lone goal for Finnish side RoPS, as their 1-1 draw at home with Shamrock Rovers FC was enough to see them through to the second round on aggregate.
John was subbed out after the half, while Mariehamn keeper Tyler Back was not in uniform for the team.
The Finnish team saw their 2-0 aggregate advantage cut in half when their visitors were awarded a spot kick in the 22nd minute, after Juha Pirinen brought down Dean Clarke, with Gary McCabe converting.
The momentum was with the Irish visitor a matter of minutes, with RoPS quickly restoring their two-goal aggregate advantage in the 27th.
A poor clearance by the defense saw the ball drop at the feet of John, who adeptly centered it for a wide-open Eetu Muinonen to put away completely unencumbered by any nearby defenders.
With the onus on Shamrock to score at least two, their Finnish hosts had little trouble to prevent any further damage, with the final 1-1 score, and overall 3-1 aggregate advantage holding until the final whistle.
RoPS will host Croatians NK Lokomotiva in the first leg of the second round on Thursday, but must first temporarily shift their focus towards their domestic campaign, where they are currently in fourth and trying to push their way back into the European spots.
Cole Grossman and Stabęk saw their European campaign come to a bitter end, with an embarrassing 1-0 loss at home, and overall 1-0 aggregate defeat to Welsh debutants Connah's Quay continuing a difficult season. Stabęk now return to their domestic campaign, where they need to find a way to step up their game in the second half of the season to climb out of the relegation places.
Brian Span was in Mariehamn's starting lineup on Thursday, as the team drew Norwegians Odds BK with a 1-1 score at home, but neverthless exited the competition on a 3-1 aggregate score.
Sachem Wilson played the final 25 minutes for ND Gorica in their home leg against Maccabi Tel Aviv. The 1-0 loss to the Israeli powerhouse saw them exit from the competition with a total 0-4 aggregate score.