PREVIEW: EXCELSIOR ROTTERDAM - AZ ALKMAAR
Jozy Altidore and AZ will look to avoid falling into a rut after their huge loss over the weekend, and will do their best to make it a difficult night for bottom-three team Excelsior Rotterdam on Wednesday.
AZ were dropped unmercifully back down to earth on Sunday evening to end their previous 19-game unbeaten run across all competitions, looking powerless to stop the surge from Heerenveen in their 5-1 loss.
Thanks to their game two weeks earlier in Rotterdam which was called off due to heavy fog, they have precious little time to lick their wounds before hitting the road again on Wednesday to take on Excelsior.
Fortunately for Altidore and his compatriots, they should by all means have little problem re-sharpening their claws against a team which has won only once so far in league play, and is kept off the bottom of the standings only by way of a slightly better goal differential than last-place Venlo.
Excelsior, who are an official partner club of Rotterdam neighbors Feyenoord, are looking to be headed back to the second-tier Eerste Divisie, where they have traditionally spent the lion's share of their time in recent decades.
They were blown out by Ajax during their game over the weekend, and while they had put on a surprising three-game unbeaten run directly prior, their paltry total of seven points and league's-worst goalscoring record of nine through 14 games is already leaving them with a seven-point gap to safety with not even half of the season's games played.
AZ are at the complete opposite end of the standings, and should they come out victorious on Wednesday would hold a six-point lead atop the standings with the short holiday break soon approaching.
For AZ, midfielder Maarten Martens is still awaiting the green light from team medics to return to action from an ankle injury, and saw his chance to ease back onto the field delayed after a minor thigh problem kept him out of a reserve game on Monday.
In addition, defender Niklas Moisander is sidelined with a hamstring injury.
Excelsior have more critical squad concerns, highlighted by the absence of Israeli-American defender Samuel Scheimann due to a multi-game suspension. Additionally, defender Tim Eekman is out with a groin injury, midfielder Joost Broerse with a calf problem, and forwards Jason Oost and Tim Vincken with respective stomach and ankle injuries.