American stars face tough EL clashes

BY Jamie Trecker • April 4, 2012

Three American stars face stiff tasks Thursday as the quarterfinals of the Europa League conclude. Jozy Altidore, Steve Cherundolo and Jermaine Jones are all hoping their teams can see off their Spanish opponents, and book a slot in the semifinals.

Altidore’s AZ Alkmaar hold a 2-1 lead over Valencia, thanks to goals from Brett Holman and Maarten Martens. Valencia, at home, are normally big favorites against any opponent, but the Spaniards are mired in a bad slump and turned in an error-filled performance last week. Winless in their past four games and with only six overall victories in their past 18 games, the wounded Spanish side could be ripe for the picking.

Valencia, unbeaten at home in European play over their last four games, get their influential spark plug, Adil Armi, back from his suspension. AZ have no pressing problems and Altidore seems to have recovered his form, scoring in their weekend draw with Vitesse to snap a six game drought.

Jermaine Jones’ Schalke isn’t so lucky. They were trashed 4-2 by the swift, slick Athletic Bilbao side last week and didn’t look to have many answers. The result was unflattering to the Germans, who were punished by two late goals. Still, there is little worth arguing the quality of Marco Bielsa’s side. Iker Muniain, Fernando Llorente and Markel Suaseta have been difficult for anyone to contain this year, and though Schalke have weapons in Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and the ageless Raul, the Germans are truly up against it.

Steve Cherundolo was brilliant in Hannover’s 2-1 win over Moenchengladbach on the weekend, but the captain will have to hold the line against a feisty Atletico Madrid team come Thursday night.

Hannover with a 2-1 lead, thanks to Eduardo Salvio’s last-gasp goal, had been a tense and even first leg game that saw Cherundolo set up Mame Diouf’s goal. This game looks to be harder for Atletico, though. Juanfran, Arda Turan and Gabi are all suspended for cards picked up last time out. Falcao will have a heavy load to shoulder.

Oguchi Onyewu is out injured but will hope to see Sporting profit, as they enter carrying a 2-1 lead over Metalist. Cleiton Xavier picked up a vital, late away goal in Portugal to give Metalist a lifeline.

FOX Soccer is the new home of the Europa League. On game days, matches can be followed on FOX Soccer or our Twitter feed, @FoxSoccerTrax.

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