KRUPNIK EYES EUROPA LEAGUE BERTH
As the Israeli season heads into the final few games, American central defender Leo Krupnik is striving to finally earn a spot in European play after coming close several times in his career.
Krupnik, 32, was born in Khmelnytskyi, USSR but is a naturalized American citizen. He has been playing most of his career in the Israeli Premier League since 2005 when he signed with Maccabi Netanya.
Since then he has achieved success with various teams but he has never been able to take part in European play.
In 2008, Krupnik enjoyed a strong season with Bnei Sakhnin as he helped the newly promoted small club finish in fourth place which earned them a spot in the Intertoto Cup.
Instead of staying with Bnei Sakhnin for their Intertoto run which ended with a close 1-0 loss to Deportivo La Coruna, Krupnik signed with Israeli powers Maccabi Haifa. In 2009, he earned the most minutes out of any player on Haifa en route to winning the Israeli title.
Maccabi Haifa participated in the Champions League in 2009 but Krupnik instead signed for the New York Red Bulls in a short-lived move that only lasted a few months before Krupnik returned to Israel.
Last season, Krupnik and Maccabi Netanya came close to qualifying for the Europa League again through both the State Cup and a midseason 18 game unbeaten run in the Premier League but they struggled the last month of the season and came up short.
This year, Maccabi Netanya are in a position to again make a push for Europe. They are right now in the quarterfinals of the Israeli State Cup and they sit in fourth place in the Premier League with just a point separating them from both the second and third place teams.
Under the format of the Premier League, the champion goes to the Champions League qualifying rounds and the second and third place teams along with the State Cup winner go to the Europa League.
"Every season here has been exciting so far," Krupnik told YA from Israel. "It's kind of the same thing that happened last year only then we had an 18 game unbeaten streak. This year we won eight out of 10 with one tie and a loss."
After last season, Krupnik is well aware of how quickly fate can change but he insists that the team learned its lesson after last year's collapse and should be ready to handle the challenges ahead.
"This year I feel that the team is a little more mature and we're a bit better as a club even if we had a defeat [last game]," Krupnik discussed. "We still played great. So hopefully we are mature enough to take care of business this year."
The big test will come this weekend with a crucial matchup against third place Maccabi Haifa. Krupnik, however, will not be able to take part in the game against his former club due to a yellow card suspension.
Still, he will be able to play in the final four games of the season as well as the remaining State Cup games.
For Krupnik, the goal of playing in a European competition is a driving force in his career especially since he helped two teams qualify for the elite competitions but left before the tournaments began.
"This is the goal or the dream," Krupnik said bluntly about European play. "It's definitely something that is a goal for a player. For me, getting to the Europa League or the Champions League is one of the things I would love to accomplish before I retire. I missed out both times even though I myself got to the point. It would be really nice to play in one of these tournaments."
Last June Krupnik signed a two year contract extension that will keep in with Maccabi Netanya through the conclusion of the 2012/2013 season. The club is currently trying to gain stature as a top club in Israel and next year they will be opening a new stadium and practice center.
With the new facilities coming next year, Krupnik sees the importance of qualifying for Europe to help bring more publicity and success to the club.
"The club is great because they give us all kinds of support," Krupnik said of Maccabi Netanya. "They are giving us everything we need to do well as professional players. Next year we have a brand new stadium that should be one of the best in Israel. We have a new practice facility that's going to be done in three months. The coaching staff just went to check it out and they said it is by far going to be the best in Israel - maybe competing with the facilities of the national team."
Krupnik feels that his body has a few more solid years left before he retires from playin but he is already planning for the next stage in his career. He is currently in the middle of a class to obtain his UEFA "A" coaching license and he wants to coach in either the professional, youth, or collegiate levels.
Before that, however, Krupnik would like to get one more shot at MLS. He had two chances in the past with the Red Bulls/Metrostars organization but arrived in difficult circumstances. In both 2002 and 2009 he signed with the club halfway through the season.
For Krupnik, he is confident he can help a team in the MLS and wants to get the chance to play for a team from the beginning of the season.
"I would still love to get a chance to play in MLS," Krupnik concluded. "I got a chance twice with New York and it was bad situations. I came in the middle of the season and I didn't fit into the team. It was a difficult a difficult process for me. With a different team and if I started with a preseason , I still feel I have a couple of good years left."