American Exports: Kazlauskas fights for Dutch promotion
AMSTERDAM — Helmond Sport handyman Charles Kazlauskas says his side will be underdogs in name only when they start a two-leg Eredivisie promotion/relegation final against hangers-on Excelsior at home on Thursday.
The Milwaukee native is confident his prospective risers can knock Excelsior out of the top flight by the same method the Rotterdam club used to go up last spring.
"You can't get any closer than this," Kazlauskas told MLSsoccer.com by phone. "We have a good team and I think it's a 50-50 battle with Excelsior."
The Red-Blacks are a familiar foe to Helmond Sport, giving the American and his teammates room to rate the matchup as square. In fact, the team from the southern Netherlands won the last two meetings and has lost just twice in the last 10.
"We know a lot about Excelsior," he said. "We played them last year in the [Eerste Divisie]. We have some players who have played with them before. We won't be surprised."
It's been a little more than six years since the 28-year-old Kazlauskas last suited up for an Eredivisie contest with NEC Nijmegen, but the return wait has been much longer for his club. Helmond Sport have not played in the Dutch honor division since 1984. The team has grown accustomed to making the promotion playoffs, but also to heartbreak in them.
"The last 10 years, they've made the playoffs seven times," noted Kazlauskas, who is appearing in his first promotion final. "The last time they got this close was 2005."
The Wisconsinite sees a couple of key pluses in the Helmond Sport column heading into the showdown, starting with one from that perceived underdog role.
"We have a lot to win," declared Kazlauskas. "The pressure's by them. They're the Eredivisie team. We have a more experienced team than Excelsior, so that should also be an advantage to us. We have four or five older players that have played in these types of games before. They know what to do in these situations."
The squad will bunker in the film study room on Wednesday to watch Exclesior's semifinal win over Den Bosch — but this being his fifth promotion rodeo, Kazlauskas says the glory remains solely to be won during matches.
"It comes down to the players on the field at game time," he stated. "You can't teach that and you can't learn anything new."
Kazlauskas is expected to start at right back in Thursday's home leg, after which Helmond Sport will conclude their Eredivisie quest — one way or the other — on Sunday in Rotterdam.