DAVID SMITH - Tuesday, July 5, 2016
It's down to the wire for several Americans in Europa League first-round qualification this week, with all six teams involving yanks still having work to do in order to secure advancement.
Jeunesse Esch - St. Patrick's Athletic (agg. 0-1)
Martin Ontiveros should once again start for Jeunesse Esch on Tuesday evening when the team will hope to use their home advantage to topple the one-goal aggregate lead of St. Patrick's Athletic.
The Texas-born midfielder quickly integrated into the Luxembourgish team's plans, earning the start last week just days after joining the team.
An early goal by St. Patrick's Chris Fagan in the first leg is the lone difference, and while the score is close enough to envision either team pushing through to the second round, the onus is on the hosts to overturn the deficit.
Making matters more tricky is the threat of their hosts scoring an away goal, which would in all likelihood put the tie out of reach as this would require Jeunesse Esch to net three for the aggregate win.
Despite being in the middle of their domestic season, the visitors will be well-rested as their regularly-schedule league fixture over the weekend was preemptively re-scheduled for mid-May.
Even with homefield advantage, beating a refreshed opponent in mid-season form will already be a tough ask, particularly with Ken Corral unable to occupy his normal spot on the right wing due to injury.
FC Infonet Tallinn - Heart of Midlothian FC (agg. 1-2)
Perry Kitchen could return to Hearts' starting lineup on Wednesday as they travel to the Estonian city of Tallinn with a precarious 2-1 lead over their opponents FC Infonet.
Kitchen played the final 11 minutes of their 2-1 home-leg victory last week one day after rejoining the team from national team duty. Now with a full week to work through his jetlag and find the same rhythm as his teammates, it is more likely than not that he will reclaim his usual starting spot in defensive midfield.
While having the one-goal advantage over their Estonian hosts, Hearts are still in a precarious position due to the early away-goal they conceded to their opponents.
A shut-out loss would shut them out of further European adventures this season, so head coach Robbie Neilson will have some pressure to enforce a slightly proactive approach than simply trying to grind out a scoreless draw.
Stabæk - Connah's Quay Nomads FC (agg. 0-0)
Cole Grossman and Stabæk are on a knife's edge in their Europa League qualification attempt, hosting Welsh opponents Connah's Quay Nomads on Thursday with both teams deadlocked on a scoreless aggregate.
Stabæk racked up yet another loss over the weekend - a stale 1-0 defeat at home to Sogndal - continuing what has been a completely disastrous season.
Grossman went the distance in central midfield for the Norwegians in the first leg last Thursday, and will reprise the role once again as they look to create any glimmer of hope ahead of what looks to be a relegation battle on the home front.
Perhaps buoyed by the success of their national team in the ongoing European Championship, the Welsh debutants will feel as though they have a slight advantage, as even a scored draw will edge them past their Norwegian opponents.
Will John is a likely start for RoPS while Tyler Back should be on the bench when the team looks to protect their 2-0 series lead over visiting Irish opponents Shamrock Rovers FC on Thursday.
Brian Span should be in Mariehamn's starting lineup on Thursday as they try to overturn the 2-0 aggregate lead by their Norwegian visitors Odds BK.
Sachem Wilson will be available for ND Gorica on Thursday evening when they face the formidable task of overcoming visiting Maccabi Tel-Aviv's 3-0 lead on aggregate.