PREVIEW: EUROPA LEAGUE ACTION
Three Americans with varying levels of success abroad are poised to begin the third qualifying round of the Europa League this week.
KuPS - Busaspor
American defender Echtu Tabe and KuPS have made history and advanced from the first and second qualifying rounds to take on Bursaspor of Turkey in the third qualifying round of the Europa League tournament.
After dispatching the Welsh Llanelli squad 3-2 on aggregate in the first round, a 2-2 victory was earned in the subsequent round over Maccabi Netanya and Leo Krupnik after scoring more away goal than their Israeli foes.
The wins mark the first time in KuPS history that a squad advanced in European competition. In their only other opportunity just last year, they fell to Gaz Metan Medias of Romania 2-1 in the second round of Europa League qualifying.
Bursaspor qualified directly to the third round by finishing eighth in the Turkish Super League. No strangers to European competition, last year a 5-2 victory over Gomel of Belarus was followed by a 4-3 loss to Belgium's Anderlecht.
In the 2010-11 UEFA Champions League, five losses in six games to Manchester United, Valencia and Rangers saw the Turkish squad exit in the group stage.
A poor Veikkausliiga showing from KuPS and Tabe so far in 2012 hasn't stopped the Finnish bottom dwellers from advancing in their previous two rounds so far. In fact, between legs of the second round, KuPS lost to first place Inter Turku 5-0 before allowing just the single goal midweek. Their success in both rounds came after scoring early and holding on for the victory in the later legs.
Bursaspor has yet to begin their domestic campaign in the Super League, but they will be at an already major advantage simply due to the size of their home crowd. Bursa Ataturk Stadium holds over 25,000 bodies, five times what Savon Sanomat Areena can muster.
Thus far, KuPS has exceeded expectations, especially in the last round thanks in large part to the defensive play of Tabe and his teammates. The group has warded off intense pressure from the Welsh and Israeli offenses, and will look to do the same in the opening leg Thursday in Finland.
St. Patricks - Hannover
First team veteran Steve Cherundolo and Hannover 96 of the Bundesliga will travel to St. Patricks from the League of Ireland for their opening game in the 2012-13 Europa League.
Taking seventh at 48 points, Cherundolo's Hannover team nabbed the final qualification spot in the Bundesliga regular season. Die Roten, or "The Reds," have yet to play their first league match this season, but if history has anything to say, they'll be taking a major advantage into the match up.
A quarterfinal exit for Hannover in the most recent edition of the Europa League came at the hands of Atletico Madrid of Spain is one of many successful runs in European competition for the German team.
St. Patricks, qualifying in the final Irish transfer position, has had far less international success. Of their 26 European matches, 16 have ended in loses, allowing 37 more goals than they've scored over all 26 games. They also boast only 3,000 seats in Richmond Park, 43,000 less than Hannover's AWD-Arena in Germany.
Cherundolo is an extremely recognizable name for anyone who follows American soccer both abroad and domestically. The 33 year old from Rockford, Illinois is widely regarded as one of the best American defenders ever, totaling 84 caps for the national team following a very successful decade at Hannover.
Hannover will be heavily favored entering Thursday's first leg in Ireland, even though St. Patricks is mid-season and sitting solidly in third place.
Vojvodina - Rapid Vienna
Terrence Boyd burst onto the international scene for Rapid Vienna in his very first professional match with the club, and just weeks later he will lead the Austrian powerhouse against one of the best Serbian clubs of all time, Vojvodina.
Rapid finished second in the 10-team Austrian Bundesliga, six points shy of Red Bull Salzburg. Red Bull recently made headlines falling to the semi-professional Dudelange of Liechtenstein, but Rapid are poised to put Austria back into a positive light in Serbia.
Serbia-based Vojvodina squad won't be an easy out for Boyd and company. Based in Novi Sad, Vojvodina are a part of the three-team Serbian Derby, somewhat unfortunately known for the violence between fans, between themselves, Red Star and Partizan, both of Belgrade.
The three teams are consistently battling, literally, for the top three positions in Serbia, with Red Star taking the Serbian Super Liga by an impressive 16 points over Vojvodina.
The 21 year old successfully blazed a path through the Hertha Berlin youth squad, gaining the attention of American coach Jurgen Klinsmann and earning his first cap in February 2012 against Italy. Boyd solidified his spot in the discussion for further call ups when he scored two goals and managed an assist in Rapid Vienna's season opener, barely missing a bicycle kick that would have surely made every highlight reel in the US.
This match up will likely be the most even of the three as neither team has started their regular season and the clubs are in comparable leagues. Boyd will be looked upon to repeat his performance in the season opener to give Rapid Vienna an edge in the opening leg Thursday in Serbia.