American Exports: Europa League draw unkind to Yanks
AMSTERDAM — The four clubs that employ US internationals remaining in the Europa League managed to completely avoid each other in Friday's quarterfinal draw. Instead, three of them lucked into hearty Spanish challenges.
Jozy Altidore's AZ Alkmaar have perhaps the toughest obstacle to the final four: his old La Liga rivals Valencia. The Cheese Farmers, who have lost just once in seven European matches against Spanish opposition, will host the first leg on March 29.
Valencia — currently third in La Liga — won the UEFA Cup in 2004, but have also been ousted in the quarterfinals five times. AZ and Los Che have never met, but Altidore took part in a Copa del Rey derby draw at the Estadio Mestalla while with Villarreal.
If the Dutch leaders can advance to the semis, they would then start on the road against the winner of the tie pitting Steve Cherundolo and Hannover 96 against 2010 Europa League champions Atlético Madrid.
Hannover have never faced the Rojiblancos, but did get the best of La Liga side Sevilla during qualifying. Combining their Europa League and UEFA Cup records, Atlético Madrid are a perfect four-for-four in previous quarterfinal duels.
Jermaine Jones and Schalke have also been handed a Spanish quarterfinal test in Manchester United-slayers Athletic Bilbao. The Royal Blues will host the first leg, which will also be the first clash between the sides.
Schalke won the UEFA Cup back in 1997 and reached the last four as recently as six years ago. The Basques, meanwhile, will be making their deepest European tourney appearance since finishing as UEFA Cup runners-up in 1977.
The winner of the Schalke-Athletic matchup will be in line to tackle the club that survives between Oguchi Onyewu's Sporting CP and Ukrainian outfit Metalist Kharkiv. The US defender will continue his recovery from injury during this two-leg battle, which begins in Lisbon.
The Lions have yet to play Metalist, but have won all four of their prior matches against clubs from the Ukraine. While Sporting were UEFA Cup silver medalists in 2005, Metalist are making their first European quarterfinal appearance.
EUROPA LEAGUE QUARTERFINAL DRAW
Schalke 04 (Germany) vs. Athletic Bilbao (Spain)
Sporting Lisbon (Portugal) vs. Metalist Kharkiv (Ukraine)
Hannover 96 (Germany) vs. Atlético Madrid (Spain)
AZ Alkmaar (Holland) vs. Valencia (Spain)