PREVIEW: EUROPA LEAGUE ACTION
Five Americans will take to the field Thursday in the second qualification round of the UEFA Europa League with aspirations of advancing in the tournament.
Inter Turku - FC Twente
In likely the most recognizable match of the entire second qualification round, Inter Turku and American Daniel Antunez dual Dutch powerhouse FC Twente.
FC Inter Turku, hailing from Turku, Finland, qualified for this edition of the tournament by finishing second in the Veikkausliiga to HJK who absolutely ran away with the regular season title. This season, Inter are the ones running away with the league, sitting proudly on top of the table with 32 points in 17 games.
Atunez is plays an intricate roll in the success of Inter. The 26 year old from Santa Ana, California has played in all but one game in the current season, his second overall with the club, missing only one game due to a red card. In 1,335 minutes, he has one goal, matching his output from his original stint in 2010.
FC Twente come into the game in their preseason, yet to play a regular season match in the Eredivisie of the Netherlands. Their sixth place finish in the regular season earned the famed club a spot in the first qualification round of the Europa League where they smashed UE Santa Coloma 9-0 on aggregate.
The two clubs combine for ten total trophies domestically and in European competition.
Thor Akureyr - Mlada Boleslav
After an incredible victory in the second leg against Bohemians of Dublin, Thor and Americans Giuseppe Funicello and Josh Wicks will take on FK Mlada Boleslav of the Czech Republic.
Wicks was a recent addition to Thor and he could make his debut for the club on Thursday against Mlada.
Despite being in the second division of the Icelandic soccer table, Thor finished runners up in the Icelandic Cup which put them into the Europa League's first qualification round. A 0-0 draw in Ireland made the trip back to Iceland the most important for both teams. After Bohemians took an early 1-0 lead, Sigurdur Kristjansson scored a hat trick in the 5-1 as Thor trampled the visiting squad.
Funicello's back line this season has allowed nearly exactly one goal per game through all competititons, but with two games in hand Thor find themselves five points behind sole position of second place. He played all 180 minutes in the first round against Bohemians.
Between the two Europa legs, Thor are scheduled to play two 1. Deild matches, including a Tuesday evening affair with Tindastoll who are currently in fourth place.
FK Mlada Boleslav come into the Europa League with a little help from an odd situation.
The Czech top flight sends its top three finishers in the Gambrinus Liga and their domestic cup winners to the competition. Siga Olomouc had won the domestic cup, but a court ruling banned the side from all 2012-2013 European competition and docked them nine league points following a 2009 corruption scandal. The fourth and final position in the Europa League was thus awarded to fourth place Mlada Boleslav.
Thor's competition have played two friendly competitive matches in their preseason, splitting the decisions with a 2-0 victory and a 1-0 defeat. The Czech season will begin 29 July.
KuPS - Maccabi Netanya
Yanks will square off against one another for the first time in 2012-2013 Europa competition when Echtu Tabe and KuPS take on Leo Krupnik and Maccabi Netanya.
Maccabi Netanya of Israel qualified directly into the second qualification round after moving from fifth to fourth in the seven game round-robin playoff through the final seven games of the Israeli season.
Leo Krupnik, originally born in Ukraine but eventually moved to the USA, is in his fourth year with the club. Though he's never scored from his defensive position, he has also never picked up a red card, providing a stable presence in the back line.
The Israeli Premier Division (Ligat Ha'al) kicks off 25 August and will end in May 2013.
Echtu Tabe's KuPS of Finland advanced to the second round following a 3-2 aggregate victory over Llanelli of Wales. Despite sitting 11th of 12 currently in the Vikkausliiga, KuPS advanced after weathering the Llanelli storm, due in part to Tabe's effort. He's only started 10 of the 17 league matches for KuPS, but endoured all 180 minutes in the Europa League thus far.
KuPS play first place Inter Turku on Sunday between their Europa League legs.