PREVIEW: HELMOND SPORT - EXCELSIOR
Wisconsin native Charles Kazlauskas and Helmond Sport hope to continue their run to the Dutch Eredivisie with a deciding home and home playoff against Excelsior.
Helmond will host the first leg of the series on Thursday against Eredivisie 16th-place team Excelsior and will be playing for a spot back in the Dutch top flight for the first time since 1984. The American will be looking to play in the Eredivisie for the first time in six years, since before his move from NEC Nijmegen.
Kazlauskas should once again feature in the back line for Helmond and be assigned the task of keeping the visitors at bay while not allowing any crucial away goals in this first clash of the two-leg qualifier.
Helmond finds itself in unfamiliar territory as they have reached this final round of the playoff for the first time since 2005, and also for the first time since the Dutch league switched to the current knockout style playoff format in lieu of round-robin play after the 2004-05 season.
The last time these two teams met was in March 2010 when both were still competing in the Eerste Divisie before Excelsior moved up to the top flight. Helmond won that matchup 2-1 thanks to a goal in stoppage time.
At his right back position, there will be significant pressure on Kazlauskas to shut down the flanks against the much-favored Excelsior.
Helmond is expecting a sellout crowd at Lavons Stadium for the highly anticipated encounter. After the match on Thursday the teams will travel to Rotterdam for the second and deciding game of the playoff on Sunday.
Neither team is reporting any injuries or suspensions heading into the game.