Maurice Edu's Rangers FC and Sacha Kljestan's RSC Anderlecht return to European action this week with the resumption of the UEFA Europa Cup, the continent's No. 2 club competition.
Scottish champion Rangers is home against Sporting Lisbon and Belgian titlist Anderlecht plays host to Ajax Amsterdam on Thursday as the knockout stage begins with round-of-32 first legs. All second legs will be a week from Thursday.
Fontana's Edu, who last month returned from a knee injury, has been a fixture in central midfield for the Blues, who joined the Europa League fray after finishing third, at 1-2-3, in group play in the first-tier UEFA Champions League.
Sporting won its Europa League group and is 7-3-0 in the competition, but that was last fall. The club is in crisis after selling top star Liedson, then firing sporting director Costinha when he railed publicly against the move. The president is leaving, chief creator Marat Izmailov is looking for a new home, and manager Paulo Sergio seems to be cracking under the pressure.
Huntington Beach's Kljestan, who has been in and out of Anderlecht's lineup (and has been a late substitute the past two weeks after sitting out the previous two), went 2-3-1 in Europa group play; Ajax, like Rangers, falls from the Champions League after finishing a point behind AC Milan in its group.
If Rangers reaches the round of 16, French club Lille or Holland's PSV Eindhoven will be the foe. Anderlecht's opponent would be Russian power Spartak Moscow or Switzerland's FC Basel.
The full Europa League slate:
Manchester City (England) at Aris Thessaloniki (Greece)
Ajax Amsterdam (Netherlands) at RSC Anderlecht (Belgium)
Sporting Lisbon (Portugal) at Rangers FC (Scotland)
Villarreal (Spain) at Napoli (Italy)
Sporting Braga (Portugal) at Lech Poznan (Poland)
Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine) at Besiktas (Turkey)
FC Twente (Netherlands) at Rubin Kazan (Russia)
VfB Stuttgart (Germany) at Benfica (Portugal)
Paris St.-Germain (France) at BATE (Belarus)
Liverpool (England) at Sparta Prague (Czech Republic)
Spartak Moscow (Russia) at FC Basel (Switzerland)
Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia) at Young Boys Berne (Switzerland)
CSKA Moscow (Russia) at PAOK Thessaloniki (Greece)
FC Porto (Portugal) at Sevilla (Spain)
PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands) at Lille (France)
Bayer Leverkusen (Germany) at Metalist Kharkiv (Ukraine)
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: The first four of eight round-of-16 series begin this week in the UEFA Champions League. Tottenham visits AC Milan and Schalke 04 plays at Valencia on Tuesday; Barcelona plays at Arsenal and Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk at AS Roma on Wednesday. The other four series begin next week.
BRADLEY'S FIRST: Manhattan Beach's Michael Bradley made his English Premier League debut Saturday, struggling to make an impact as a second-half substitute in Aston Villa's 1-1 draw at Blackpool.
Bradley came on in the 73rd minute, for goalscorer Gabriel Agbonlahor, just a few moments after Jean Makoun's red card left the Villans with 10 men. Blackpool took charge at that point, and the U.S. national team midfielder (and son of U.S. coach Bob Bradley) offered little.
He had one fan, for sure.
“To come into a team that’s down to 10 men, I think Michael Bradley did well,” Aston Villa manager Gerard Houllier told the Birmingham Mail. “It’s difficult, when you have a special job to do, but he did OK. Don’t forget that he [just received] his visa last week and he had had just two or three trainings with us.”
BOCANEGRA SCORES: Alta Loma's Carlos Bocanegra netted his second goal of the season, but it wasn't nearly enough for Saint-Etienne. The veteran left back knocked home Dimitri Payet's free kick to give Les Verts a 13th-minute lead, but Lyon stormed back for a 4-1 triumph in Saturday's Ligue 1 enconter.
ETC.: Rangers kept pace with Celtic in the SPL by burying Motherwell, 6-0, on Nikica Jelavic's hat trick. The Glasgow archrivals face off in a league game Sunday. … Irvine's Matt Taylor missed two games, both losses, for Rot Weiss Ahlen with a calf injury. … Hednesford Town, with Santa Monica's Jay Denny, reached the Southern League Cup semifinals, with a March 1 game against Chippenham Town. Former Galaxy forward Kyle Patterson came off the bench to score a goal and set up another in the 4-2 quarterfinal win over Stourbridge.
AREA PLAYERS IN EUROPE
D CARLOS BOCANEGRA (Alta Loma/UCLA)
Club: Saint-Etienne (France, Ligue 1)
Last week: 90 minutes, with a 13th-minute goal, as Les Verts (9-6-8) dropped to sixth with a 4-1 loss Saturday to Lyon
Season: 19 league games (19 starts) with 2 goals, 21 games (21 starts) with 2 goals in all competitions
Next: Saturday at third-place Olympique Marseille (10-4-9)
M MICHAEL BRADLEY (Manhattan Beach)
Club: Aston Villa (England, Premier League)
Last week: A 73rd-minute substitute for the 15th-place Villans (7-11-9) in Saturday's 1-1 draw at Blackpool
Season: 1 league game (0 starts) for Aston Villa; 22 games (20 starts) with 4 goals in all competitions for Borussia Moenchengladbach (Germany)
Next: Feb. 26 vs. 11th-place Blackburn (9-13-5)
D JAY DENNY (Santa Monica)
Club: Hednesford Town (England, Southern League Premier Division)
Last week: 90 minutes as the fifth-place Pitmen (13-9-4) beat Stourbridge, 4-2, Tuesday in a Southern League Cup quarterfinals and lost, 3-2, Sunday at Cambridge City
Season: 26 league games (24 starts) with 1 goal, 8 cup games (7 starts) with 1 goal, 34 games (31 starts) with 2 goals in all competitions
Next: Tuesday at Stafford Rangers in Staffordshire FA Senior Cup, Saturday vs. fourth-place Chesham United (13-4-8)
M MAURICE EDU (Fontana)
Club: Rangers FC (Scotland, Premier Division)
Last week: A 70th-minute substitute as the second-place Blues (18-3-2) romped to a 6-0 victory Wednesday vs. Motherwell
Season: 18 league games (12 starts) with 2 goals, 26 games (19 starts) with 4 goals in all competitions
Next: Thursday vs. Sporting Lisbon in a UEFA Europa League Round of 32 first leg; Sunday at first-place Celtic (19-2-4)
M BENNY FEILHABER (Irvine/UCLA)
Club: AGF Aarhus (Denmark, 1.Division)
Last week: League is on winter break
Season: 14 league games (14 starts) with 4 goals, 17 games (16 starts) overall with 7 goals
Next: March 20 vs. Hobro (5-7-3)
G BRAD FRIEDEL (Bay Village, Ohio/UCLA)
Club: Aston Villa (England, Premier Division)
Last week: 90 minutes, with no saves, as the 15th-place Villans (7-11-9) drew, 1-1, Saturday at Blackpool
Season: 27 league games (27 starts), 46 goals allowed, 85 saves, 5 shutouts; 31 games (31 starts), 53 goals allowed, 98 saves, 5 shutouts in all competitions
Next: Feb. 26 vs. 11th-place Blackburn (9-13-5)
M SACHA KLJESTAN (Huntington Beach)
Club: RSC Anderlecht (Belgium, Jupiler League)
Last week: An 89th-minute substitute as the first-place Mauves (18-2-6) on Saturday beat Cercle Brugge, 1-0
Season: 15 league games (10 starts) with 2 goals, 23 games (18 starts) with 3 goals in all competitions
Next: Thursday vs. Ajax Amsterdam in a UEFA Europa League Round of 32 first leg; Sunday at 10th-place Westerlo (8-10-7)
D DALLAS MOORE (Santa Monica)
Club: St. Neots Town FC (England, UCL Premier Division)
Last week: 90 minutes as the first-place Saints (20-1-3) on Tuesday beat St. Ives Town, 2-1, and on Saturday lost to Kings Lynn Town, 4-2, in an F.A. Vase round-of-16 game
Season: 3 league games (3 starts) with 1 goal, 1 cup game (1 start), 4 games (4 starts) with 1 goal in all competitions for St. Neots Town; 13 games (13 starts) for Halesowen Town (England) with 1 goal
Next: Tuesday vs. 12th-place Deeping Rangers (11-17-3), Saturday vs. 10th-place Blackstones FC (12-9-8)
F YURA MOVSISYAN (Pasadena/Pasadena City College)
Club: FC Krasnodar (Russia, Russian Premier League)
Last week: Did not play in Armenia's 2-1 loss Wednesday to Georgia; league is in preseason
Season: 25 games (20 starts) with 14 goals for Randers in all competitions
Next: Season opener March 12 at Anzhi Makhachkala
F MATT TAYLOR (Irvine/UCLA)
Club: Rot Weiss Ahlen (Germany, 3. Bundesliga)
Last week: Did not play, because of a calf injury, as 16th-place Rot Weiss (5-10-8) lost, 2-0, Wednesday to Hansa Rostock and 1-0 Saturday to Wacker Burghausen
Season: 15 league games (15 starts) with 10 goals, 16 games (16 starts) with 10 goals in all competitions
Next: Saturday at Kickers Offenbach (13-5-4)
BOBBY WOOD (Irvine)
Club: TSV 1860 Munich (Germany, 2. Bundesliga)
Past week: An 89th-minute substitute as 11th-place 1860 (8-6-8) were beaten, 1-0, Monday at FC Erzgebirge Aue
Season: 3 league games (0 starts), 21 games (14 starts) with 7 goals in all competitions
Next: Friday vs. second-place FC Augsburg (12-5-5)