As the final matchday of the Europa League group stages approaches Wednesday and Thursday, so does the best chance to see Americans in action overseas on a TV near you. And with some of the Americans’ teams in danger of crashing out of Europa, it may be the last chance for a while. That is, unless your cable package comprehensively covers the Portuguese, Dutch, German and Belgian leagues, in which case you’re really spending way too much for cable.
The two Fox Soccer Channels offer regular viewing of Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Brad Friedel in England and occasionally Michael Bradley in the Serie A, and GolTV shows some of the Bundesliga exploits of Steve Cherundolo and the German-Americans in the national team, but to see Oguchi Onyewu (Sporting Lisbon), Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht) or Jonathan Spector (Birmingham City) in a non-streamed format, Europa’s the ticket. Furthermore, with the Manchester teams now surprisingly in the impending mix, there could be some great matches ahead.
Some players, like Onyewu, Kljestan and Jones earned early admission to the knockout phase, as Sporting Lisbon, Anderlecht and Schalke 04 each clinched the top spots in their respective groups and secured berths in the last 32 with a game to spare. Others are less likely, but as it stands, everyone’s got a shot, even if mathematical probabilities aren’t as rosy as they might like.
Dempsey, the all-time leading American goal scorer in the Premier League, has been firing for Fulham this season, both domestically and in the Europa League, where he will always be remembered for his chip into the Juventus goal in 2010. But Fulham jeopardized their shot at the round of 32 when they slumped to a 1-0 loss in the 89th minute against group leaders FC Twente, down to 10 men. However, if Krakow lose to or draw with FC Twente, Fulham are through. But Dempsey & Co. are in charge of their own destiny. If they win, second is theirs. If Fulham lose to or draw with Odense and Krakow pull off the upset, however, Krakow takes the spoils.
Friedel has proven integral to the Tottenham first team, but he usually sits out Europa nights. For Spurs to progress, Rubin Kazan would have to lose and Tottenham have to win and overcome a goal difference of 5. Good time to have a proven shot-stopper, so Redknapp may choose to select him against Shamrock Rovers. However, one school of thought says exiting the competition would help Spurs finish in the top 3 or 4 in the Premier League, not playing weekend matches on the heels of Thursday nights in Europe, so perhaps the bald-pated American will again see some rest. Many betting sites tipped Tottenham to win the cup. Few expected they’d fail to pass through the group stage.
Spector and Birmingham may soon be crashing out, unless they’ve got some goals in them. They need first-place Braga to down second-place Brugge, while they themselves beat Maribor and hope it all works out such that they overcome the 4 goal deficit separating them from Brugge. Doable if they’ve got their shooting boots on (and Braga, theirs).
Altidore, whose career has witnessed a resurgence since joining the Dutch champions, will likely lead the line again for AZ Alkmaar, but the team must get a result against group leaders FC Metalist. Win and they clinch second. If they lose and Vienna defeats Malmo, they crash out. Draw and they squeak through, unless Vienna beats Malmo by 7 goals, which one would have to consider a tad unlikely, as they have conceded almost a third more goals than they’ve scored in the group stages. Altidore has 9 goals this season.
Onyewu, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s long-lost shorter, stronger brother, has similarly returned to form with Sporting Lisbon. In fact, he scored the lone goal in last weekend’s 1-0 victory over CD Nacional de Madeira. And with former club PSV Eindhoven still in the Europa mix, he may have a chance to exact some revenge for their lack of faith in him that led to selling him off this past summer.
Schalke 04 midfielder Jermaine Jones has been seeing more first team action and will live to see another Europa day, as the Schalke tops its group and is certain to go through.
Anderlecht is similarly a lock, and barring injury so is Kljestan, who has excelled at Anderlecht this season and must be wondering why he’s seen so little time with the national team. The midfielder has started 23 matches and scored 2 goals this season.
Hannover 96 captain Cherundolo and his team look favorites for second. Win or draw with last place Vorskla and they go through.
Americans guaranteed passage:
Oguchi Onyewu (Sporting Lisbon, D)
Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht, MF)
Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04, MF)
Clint Dempsey (Fulham, MF)
Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96, D)
Jonathan Spector (Birmingham City, D)
Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar, F)
Brad Friedel (Tottenham, GK)
Wednesday, December 14
Besiktas v Stoke City 1:00 PM (DirecTV)
PSG v Atletic Bilbao 1:00 PM (GolTV)
Fulham v Odense 3:00 PM (GolTV)
Thursday, December 15
Hannover 96 v Vorskla Potlava 1:00 PM (GolTV)
Shamrock Rovers v Spurs 1:00 PM (DirecTV)
Atletico Madrid v Stade Rennais 3:00 PM (GolTV)
Birmingham v Maribor 3:00 PM (DirecTV)
Udinese v Celtic 3:00 PM (DirecTV)