A guide to Americans in European club competitions this season

Friday August 30th, 2013

Jermaine Jones has been a stalwart for Schalke in European tournaments for a number of years.
Martin Meissner/AP

Fans hoping to follow U.S. players in this season's European club competitions won't have to work very hard.

Despite soccer's progress at home, establishing a consistent American presence in the top competitions abroad remains an elusive goal. In fact, the numbers are down significantly this season. Among the 32 clubs competing in the 2013-14 UEFA Champions League's group stage, there will be only two U.S. national team players. In the second-tier Europa League, where the group stage comprises an additional 48 teams, only three U.S.-eligible athletes are scheduled to take part.

With the groups now drawn, here's a quick look at the U.S. players, plus one revitalized Italian-American, who will be performing on Europe's biggest stages this season.

Champions League

There were four U.S. players in last season's tournament, including two in the knockout stages. Jermaine Jones and Schalke 04 advanced to the Round of 16, where the Germans were knocked out by Galatasaray. Oguchi Onyewu, now a free agent, played three times in the group stage for Málaga but then missed out on the Spanish club's run to the quarterfinals. This season, Jones and Sacha Kljestan will go it alone.

Jermaine Jones, Schalke 04

The Gelsenkirchen club is a Champions League regular and Jones, 31, is the most seasoned U.S. player at this level. The midfielder is now taking part in his sixth Champions League campaign.

Jones will miss the start of the group stage, however, thanks to his ejection from Tuesday's 3-2 qualifying win at PAOK Thessaloniki. Schalke will open Sept. 18 at home vs. Steaua Bucharest.

Chelsea and FC Basel round out Group E, from which Schalke is a good bet to advance. Jones very well could be playing in the knockout rounds again come the spring, as long as he can stay eligible.

Sacha Kljestan, Anderlecht

From Chivas USA to the Champions League, Kljestan's rise up the game's competitive ladder has been meteoric. The 27-year-old midfielder won a second consecutive Belgian Pro League title in the spring and now will play in Europe's top tournament for a second straight season. Last year he started four of six group-stage games as Anderlecht finished 1-3-2 in a difficult quartet that included Málaga, AC Milan and Zenit St. Petersburg.

The Brussels club faces another tough task this fall. It kicks off the double round robin on Sept. 17 at Portuguese power Benfica and also will have to face French favorite Paris Saint-Germain and perennial Greek champion Olympiacos.

Whatever happens, Kljestan already has distinguished himself -- he's the only born-and-bred U.S. national team field player remaining in European competition.

Note: Goalkeeper David Yelldell, who's from Stuttgart but played once for the U.S. in 2011, is on Bayer Leverkusen's roster but rarely sees first-team action and is unlikely to play for the German club in the Champions League.

Europa League

The U.S. ranks in the Europa League have declined by more than half since last season. Clint Dempsey (from Tottenham Hotspur to the Seattle Sounders) and Jozy Altidore (from AZ Alkmaar to Sunderland) would be playing in the 2013-14 tournament if they had stayed at their former clubs. But considering Spurs' recent signing spree and Dempsey's salary and situation in Seattle, not to mention Altidore's jump in competitive level, it's hard to argue against either move.

Dempsey and Brad Friedel advanced to last spring's Europa League quarterfinals, where they fell on penalty kicks to FC Basel. Friedel will be back for another run, along with two up-and-coming U.S. strikers.

Terrence Boyd, Rapid Vienna

Now entering his second season in Austria -- and his second season as a senior-level pro -- the 22-year-old native of Bremen, Germany remains on the cusp of the U.S. national team picture.

He did extremely well in 2012-13, scoring 13 times in league play as Rapid finished third in the Austrian Bundesliga. He also tallied three goals in the Europa League. Rapid advanced to the group stage but finished last in its quartet.

This fall it will face Ukraine's Dynamo Kiev, Belgium's KRC Genk and Swiss club FC Thun.

Boyd has two goals so far in Austrian league play, where Rapid is 2-2-2.

Brad Friedel, Tottenham Hotspur

The ageless goalkeeper no longer is an every-game starter but remains in the running for minutes in cup and continental competition. He started and went the distance in Spurs' 3-0 qualifying win over Dinamo Tbilisi and may see more time in the group stage if Frenchman Hugo Lloris continues to focus on English Premier League play.

Tottenham, which won the UEFA Cup in 1972 and 1984, should have little trouble with a group that contains Russia's Anzhi Makhachkala, Sheriff Tiraspol from Moldova and Norway's Tromsø.

Aron Johannsson, AZ Alkmaar

Johannsson has picked up at AZ where Altidore left off and is scoring goals regularly for the Dutch side. The 22-year-old forward, who was born in Alabama to Icelandic parents and recently committed to representing the U.S., has netted five times already this season. His goal in the first leg of a Europa qualifying playoff against Greece's Atromitos on Aug. 22 helped lift AZ to an aggregate win on away goals and a spot in the group stage.

The skillful striker likely will add to that total as AZ faces PAOK, Maccabi Haifa and Kazakh upstart Shakhter Karagandy this fall.

Johannsson showed well during a substitute appearance for the U.S. in the recent win at Bosnia-Herzegovina and was named to Jurgen Klinsmann's World Cup qualifying roster for the upcoming matches against Costa Rica and Mexico. He's now playing under the spotlight for both club and country.

Giuseppe Rossi, Fiorentina

He doesn't suit up for the U.S., but he is American -- Rossi was born in Bergen County, N.J. and played for the Clifton Stallions before leaving for Parma FC at age 12. His decision to represent Italy rankled many U.S. fans, but his recovery from two major knee injuries and his return to European competition with Fiorentina still is a compelling story.

Rossi signed with the Florentine club in January after more than five seasons with Villarreal and made his debut in May. He then scored his first goal for his new team on Aug. 26 in a Serie A win over Catania.

Fiorentina should advance out of a group containing Ukraine's Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, Portugal's Paços de Ferreira and Romania's Pandurii Targu Jiu.

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