AMSTERDAM — Europa League round of 16 play started on Thursday night with three US internationals in action, headlined by two Jozy Altidore assists in AZ Alkmaar's 2-0 home leg win over Udinese.
The game was scoreless until Maarten Martens kissed home a deflected Altidore cross from the right in the 63rd minute. With six minutes left on the clock, the US striker's centering feed from nearly the same position ran through the fanning Brett Holman for sub Erik Falkenburg to add the second.
Altidore nearly made it three in added time, only to have his bouncing header stopped by Udinese goalkeeper Samir Handanović. On the night, the American earned his paycheck from a physical standpoint, drawing four free kicks and two yellow cards as he frustrated the away defense.
The teams will reunite at Udinese on March 15 to complete the tie.
Elsewhere, Steve Cherundolo and Hannover 96 will head into next week's home leg with plenty of hope after rallying for a 2-2 draw at Standard Liège.
The skipper went the distance at his customary right back post, picking up a yellow card near time. Cherundolo, who has been booked in three straight Europa League matches, will now miss the return leg.
Shortly after Lars Stindl put the Reds up from the spot midway through the opening frame, Cherundolo was forced to cover at left back, where he lost the crosser on Standard's equalizer. The hosts added another quickly to grab a lead on the half-hour, but Mame Biram Diouf's 56th-minute strike sent Hannover home with a draw and two valuable away goals.
The night did not turn out so fortunately for Jermaine Jones and Schalke, who will surely feel aggrieved following a controversial 1-0 loss at FC Twente.
The US midfielder worked whistle to whistle, nearly putting the Miners ahead on 24 minutes. Jones surged up the gut after a turnover, breaching the area from combo play with Chinedu Obasi only to sky his shot over the bar.
The night turned at the hour, when Schalke defender Joel Matip was sent off for supposedly upending Luuk de Jong as he dribbled into the area, and the Twente striker buried the resulting penalty. However, replays showed not only that de Jong started going down outside the box, but also that he tripped over his own feet.
Schalke are expected to appeal to have Matip's ejection rescinded, but still must now stage a rally in the friendly confines next Thursday.
Meanwhile, Sporting CP took a step toward the quarterfinals by posting a 1-0 home victory over EPL leaders Manchester City without injured center back Oguchi Onyewu.