DAVID SMITH - Friday, August 6, 2010
The draw for the playoff round of the Champions and Europa Leagues has been made, setting up the last obstacle for a handful of Americans trying to reach the group stage of their respective competitions.
Headlining American participation in the round is the match-up between Belgian champions RSC Anderlecht and Serbian winners FK Partizan Belgrade.
Anderlecht easily advanced past Welsh team TNS - with the help of a goal and assist by newcomer Sacha Kljestan - by an aggregate 6-1 score.
Likewise, Partizan had no problems in their 5-1 aggregate win over Finnish counterparts HJK Helsinki in the third round.
The draw sees Anderlecht in position of being favorites to come out ahead in their quest to make the group stage of Europe's top club competition for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
Partizan are historically one of eastern Europe's most successful and storied teams, however they have barely made waves on the continental stage in recent years, usually seeing their campaigns end in the qualifying stages.
US Youth international Gale Agbossoumonde is still largely working with the youth ranks of Portuguese runners-up SC Braga, and will almost certainly take no part when they face Spanish fourth-place team Sevilla in their Champions League play-off.
In the Europa League, the play-off between English team Aston Villa and Austrian's Rapid Vienna will see one American Brad take his place between the posts for what will certainly be seen as a chance for European redemption for the Birmingham-based club.
Last year's Europa League play-off round also produced the exact same pairing between Villa and Rapid, with the Austrians ultimately pulling the shocker on their English opponents to pass into the group stage on away goals.
Villa cup competition-hero Brad Guzan started both games against Vienna in last season's competition, and will surely be eager to get another crack at the Austrians in the team's effort to push into the group stage.
Jozy Altidore will likely play no part in Villarreal's fortuitous play-off pairing against Belarusian team Dnepr Mogilev, who are already responsible for knocking off Mikkel Diskerud and Stabaek two rounds earlier in the competition.
Villarreal were awarded a spot in the Europa League after Mallorca ran into financial difficulties which left them disqualified, however as Altidore will not have a chance to even begin properly training with his teammates - should he remain through the transfer window - until well after the USA's August 11 friendly game in New Jersey against Brazil, he is an unlikely candidate to be called into action.
The play-off will also see Celtic attempt to reach the group stage against Dutch team Utrecht after their collapse to fall from Champions League qualifying, with Dominic Cervi likely to serve as the backup keeper for the Scottish team.
Additionally, on-loan midfielder Freddy Adu will surely play no part for Greek team Aris as they try to reach the group stage in their match-up against Austria Vienna.
Champions League play-off round (Aug. 17/18 & 24/25)
FK Partizan Belgrade - RSC Anderlecht
SC Braga - Sevilla FC
Europa League play-off round (Aug. 19 & 26)
Rapid Vienna - Aston Villa FC
Villarreal - Dnepr Mogilev
Celtic FC - Utrecht
FC Aris - Austria Vienna