PREVIEW: EUROPA LEAGUE ACTION
The second leg of the Europa League's second qualifying round is set to kick off Thursday, and five Americans have opportunities to advance.
Thor Akureyri - FK Mlada Boleslav
After a shellacking in the Czech Republic, Giuseppe Funicello, Josh Wicks and Thor Akureyri have a mountain to climb in their return leg Thursday in Iceland.
Mlada Boleslav qualified directly to the second round of the European tournament, and their fresh pre-season legs dominated a mid-season Thor squad. After maintaining possession for the majority of the first half, two goals over ten minutes by the hosts put the game quickly out of reach.
A third would come in the Czech Republic in the second half, leaving Thor bleeding in the open water.
Over the weekend, however, Thor found their offensive stride, dismantling last place Leiknir Reykjavik 5-1, the same score line as the second leg against Bohemians in the opening qualifying round.
If another stunning victory is to be achieved, Funicello's back line will need to lock down from the early going. His 90 minutes last Thursday were spent mostly chasing the Mlada Boleslav offense.
The foggy goalkeeping situation continues in Akureyri, with newly signed Josh Wicks battling Serbian veteran Srdjan Rajovic for playing time. Following the first leg, it seemed Rajovic had played himself out of the starting role. But in the 1.Deild match Sunday, it was the Serbian between the pipes. Many close to the situation expect Wicks to take over at some point this season, despite Thor's league success.
Funicello, however, will start for Thor.
Inter Turku - FC Twente
Daniel Atunez and Inter Turku will return to Finland with an unexpected upper hand in their pairing with Dutch powerhouse FC Twente.
In a game completely dominated by the hosts Twente, Turku were the first to get on the board. A clearance from the line led directly to a breakaway by former Manchester City attacker Pim Bouman, who calmly slotted home the opening goal.
Twente continued to dominate possession throughout the remainder of the first half, continuing their success after the break. After two failed corner kicks, Roberto Rosales found Dusan Tadic for the equalizer in the 66th minute.
Atunez and the rest of Inter Turku do have the upper hand, as away goals are the first tiebreaker in the Europa League. His 90 minutes from the first leg will need to be matched if Turku are going to advance.
The American scored in second half injury time over the weekend when Inter Turku absolutely demolished fellow American Echtu Tabe and KuPS 6-0 in the Veikkausliiga.
KuPS - Maccabi Netanya
When the Fins and the Israelis take the field Thursday, it will ensure at least one American will be advancing to the third qualifying round.
Defender Echtu Tabe's Kuopion Palloseura squad traveled to Israel and picked up the 2-1 win in the opening leg of the first American-versus-American match of the Europa League.
Aleksi Paananen scored in the 36th and the 45th minutes, giving the visitors a 2-0 lead going into the locker room. But an intelligent halftime substitute from Maccabi Netanya head coach Tal Banin led to Yossi Shivhon's goal in the 75th minute, reeling in the Finnish advantage.
Maccabi Netanya's defense includes American Leo Krupnik, but the still pre-season squad needed over an hour to shake off the cobwebs collected over the summer.
KuPS may have been looking ahead to their Thursday match a bit too much during their Sunday meeting with Veikkausliiga-leading Inter Turku, falling 6-0 to Daniel Atunez, who scored a goal in second half stoppage.
Tabe and Krupnik both went 90 minutes in the first leg, and will be expected to make a major impact for their sides to keep their respective offensive ends firing through to the third round.