The dream of European silverware is still alive for four Americans, whose teams are locked in UEFA Europa League quarterfinal battles on Thursday.
U.S. national team stalwarts Jozy Altidore, Steve Cherundolo, Jermaine Jones and the injured Oguchi Onyewu all have their teams a result away from reaching the semifinals of the competition. If all four can have their teams go through, then it will guarantee that one American stands on the winner's podium after the final in Bucharest next month. In order for that to happen, though, comebacks will be needed against Spanish competition for Cherundolo's Hannover and Jones' Schalke.
Here is a closer look at Thursday's four Europa League quarterfinal second legs:
EUROPA LEAGUE QUARTERFINALS
HANNOVER 96 vs. ATLETICO MADRID
TV: GOLTV, 3 p.m.
First leg: Hannover fell in Madrid, 2-1.
There's reason for optimism for Cherundolo & Co., as Mame Biram Diouf's away goal in a tough environment gives Hannover a lifeline heading back home.
Hannover, which is coming off a big league win over Borussia Monchengladbach over the weekend in their quest to cement a 2012-13 Europa League spot, will look to carry the momentum from that home victory into Thursday's contest. Making life a bit easier for Hannover is that Atletico Madrid will be without captain Antonio Lopez and the suspended Arda Turan for the match, but Colombian striker Radamel Falcao looms on the Spanish side's front line.
VALENCIA vs. AZ ALKMAAR
TV: DirecTV, 3 p.m.
First Leg: AZ held serve at home, winning 2-1.
The match marks Altidore's return to Spain for the first time since he used to play for Villarreal, and he would love nothing more than to walk out of Estadio de Mestalla as a winner. Mehmet Topal's away goal in Holland last week gives Valencia more than just hope as they return home, though.
For Altidore, he has returned to his place as a fixture in the starting XI and is coming off a game in which he scored his 15th goal of the season. Four of those goals have come in the Europa League.
ATHLETIC BILBAO vs. SCHALKE
TV: DirecTV, 3 p.m.
First Leg: Schalke dropped a 4-2 home result.
Schalke need a pretty massive comeback, but the German side was faced with a daunting task in the Round of 16 and managed to battle back to reach the quarterfinals. After falling behind 2-0 and conceding an away goal to FC Twente, Schalke scored four straight, including the series-winner from Jones, to advance.
Guided by coach Marcelo Bielsa, Athletic Bilbao has proven to be one of the competition's most explosive teams, as they toyed with Manchester United's defense in the Round of 16 to eliminate the Red Devils. It will take a complete effort for Schalke to go through, but if anyone knows a thing or two about scoring big goals on Spanish soil it is former Real Madrid legend Raul, who will team with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar to try and spearhead the comeback.
METALIST KHARKIV vs. SPORTING LISBON
TV: DirecTV, 3 p.m.
First Leg: Sporting won 2-1 in the home leg.
Onyewu remains on the sidelines while he recovers from knee surgery, and while Sporting continues to slide in the Portuguese league table, holding off the Ukrainian side would provide a morale boost going forward.
Metalist is without two defensive starters, as Papa Gueye and Marco Torsiglieri are both suspended. That should give Sporting's ace Dutch striker Ricky von Wolfswinkel an advantage as the club seeks a dagger away tally that would counter the stoppage-time penalty kick that Metalist was able to convert in Lisbon last week.
Which Americans do you see progressing to the semifinals? Which team do you think has the best chance to win it all?
Share your thoughts below.
Gooch is back from injury by end of the month I hear. I see the final being AZ and Atletico Bilbao
Every game has an American involved.
I’m loving this.
“held serve at home”
I like it.