Then Came the Longbows…

We’ll have to check the archives, but we’re pretty sure we just completed the longest publishing gap in the history of the BP. It’s been a full week since the last post. Our bad. We’ve taken on another role at the day job, and have another project cooking up (more on that later), so the Backpost got moved to the backburner.

Let’s ease it back in with this clip of Legia Warsaw fans launching a coordinated snowball offensive against Sporting CP and U.S. defender Oguchi Onyewu during warmups for their Europa League match last week:

The visitors shook off the attack and left Poland with a 2-2 first-leg result that sets them up fairly well for the second leg in Lisbon.

Jozy Altidore Will Not Be Stopped

U.S. striker Jozy Altidore remains a man on a roll, scoring his seventh goal of the young season in AZ Alkmaar’s 1-1 tie with Norwegian Black Metal band Ukrainian side FC Metalist Kharkiv in Europa League action today.

The 21-year-old New Jersey native settled a pass with a great touch at the top of the box, then buried an expert finish into the far corner. Take a look:

Ever since he left MLS in 2008 for a record $10-million transfer fee, Altidore has been a handful for defenders in Europe, drawing fouls and creating space for teammates. He’s also improved at holding the ball up top as a target forward. But one element—a big one, for a forward—had been missing during his stints with Villareal, Hull City, and Bursaspor, and that was goal scoring.

He’s taking care of that aspect pretty well so far this season, and we might be seeing the realization of all the potential he showed in 2006, when he made his Red Bulls debut as a precociously strong 16-year-old.

Dempsey Scores Two in Fulham’s Europa League Opener

U.S. midfielder Clint Dempsey buried a pair of headers to lead Fulham to a 3-0 win over Ukrainian side Dnipro in first leg of their Europa League play-in series last night at Craven Cottage.

Check out the goals here:

Deuce and Fulham are back in action on Sunday, traveling to Wolverhampton to take on Wolves and manager Mick McCarthy, who will look to keep any “disgruntled numpties” in check with a second straight win after beating Blackburn 2-1 last weekend.

Guzan and Lichaj Start for Aston Villa in Hostile Vienna Encounter

U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan made several outstanding saves, and 21-year-old U.S. defender Eric Lichaj made his Aston Villa debut in a 1-1 Europa League tie at Rapid Vienna yesterday.

Lichaj, who did a brief, injury-marred stint at the University of North Carolina before enrolling in the U-17 residency program in Bradenton, Fla., turned in a steady performance at right back.

He signed with Villa in 2007 and has been loaned to Lincoln City and Leyton Orient. This year, it appears he has staked a claim to a place in the first team.

Guzan endured relentless taunting and several projectiles from the Vienna fans behind his goal.

Here is his account, as told to the Daily Mail:

“You try to do your best because the referee can’t go into the stands and literally remove people. There were some objects like lighters and coins and stuff. We knew it was going to be hostile, but this is a result we will be happy to take and go back to Villa Park.”

Dempsey, Fulham, Fall in Europa League Final

U.S. midfielder Clint Dempsey became the first American player ever to appear in a European cup final when he came on in the 55th minute of Fulham’s 2-1 loss to Atletico Madrid yesterday. (Former U.S. internationals David Wagner and Thomas Dooley, who were both born in Germany to American fathers, were members of the Schalke 04 team that won the 1997 UEFA Cup final, but neither one appeared in the two-leg final. Roy Hodgson was the coach of Schalke’s opponent that year, Inter Milan.)

After the Cottagers’ Simon Davies matched Diego Forlan’s 32nd minute opener with a strike of his own five minutes later, Fulham began dominating possession. They couldn’t find the net, though, and the game went to extra time tied at 1.

In the second extra period, after 116 minutes of play, Atletico’s Sergio Aguero squared the ball for Forlan, who had Fulham defender Brede Hangeland all over him in the six-yard box. Forlan got a foot to it, bouncing the ball past Mark Schwarzer and in at the far post.

It was a brutal loss for Fulham, which had battled through 18 Europa League games to reach this final, the first in club history. Dempsey came on for a banged-up Bobby Zamora and had a few decent exchanges, but not a huge impact over all.

Clint Dempsey, Fulham Advance to Europa League Final

Just two and a half years ago, Fulham was on the brink of relegation from the Premier League. Yesterday, the Cottagers advanced to the Europa League final, defeating Hamburg 2-1 in their semifinal second leg.

That Roy Hodgson hiring has worked out quite nicely.

Fulham will face Atletico Madrid in the final on May 12 in Hamburg.

U.S. attacker Clint Dempsey came on for Bobby Zamora in the 57th minute yesterday and played the rest of the game. If Dempsey plays against Atletico on May 12, he’ll become the first American ever to appear in a major European final.

Current L.A. Galaxy and former U.S. striker Jovan Kirovski was a member of the 1997 Borussia Dortmund team that won the Champions League, but he did not play in the final. And according to our crack team of researchers (hat-tip to Rich), there were two former U.S internationals (Thomas Dooley and David Wagner) on the Schalke O4 team that defeated none other than Roy Hodgson and Inter Milan on penalties in the 1997 UEFA Cup final. But neither of those Yanks played in the title game.

In addition to Kirovski, there have been eight Americans involved in the Champions League, but none of them reached the final. DaMarcus Beasley got to the semis with PSV Eindhoven in 2005.

In yesterday’s game, Fulham fell behind in the 20th minute, then got a terrific goal from Simon Davies to pull even in the 69th minute before Zoltan Gera scored the winner off a corner kick scramble six minutes later.

Here are the highlights, moderated by an Eastern European crew in desperate need of coffee:

Everton’s Good News-Bad News Week Is … Mostly Bad, Actually

Everton defeated Sporting Lisbon 2-1 in the home leg of their Europa League Round of 32 matchup on Tuesday, but also learned on that day that it had lost towering (6′ 5″) center midfielder Marouane Fellaini for the season. And even the Europa League win was dampened near the end by a potentially huge mistake from defender Sylvain Distin, who decked Sporting’s Da Silva Muniz Liedson in the box in the 87th minute, getting red-carded and giving the visitors a crucial away goal via penalty in the dying moments.

Distin will miss the return leg, and Everton’s John Heitinga is also out, meaning the Toffees will play at Lisbon without their first-choice central defense. Getting to the Round of 16 looks a lot tougher now than it did in the 86th minute at Goodison Park on Tuesday.

U.S. midfielder Landon Donovan started, went the distance, and by all accounts had a decent game. (Ditto Yank keeper Tim Howard.) Will David Moyes employ Donovan in the center of the midfield at all, following the season-ending injury to Fellaini?

It turns out the Belgian midfielder was not embellishing, at all, after his crunching 50-50 challenge with Liverpool defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos in the Merseyside derby on Feb 6 (see photo above).

Not that we, or anyone else (outside of the odd Scouser: see Fellaini’s vandalized Wikipedia page here*) were suggesting he was, but Fellaini did go over the ball into the challenge—while Kyrgiakos went two-footed, studs-up—and it’s not uncommon for a player to camouflage a bookable offense by feigning grievous bodily harm. (One match announcer suggested both players deserved red cards on the play).

But Fellaini has come out worse for the wear, as Everton announced Tuesday that he will require surgery to repair ligament damage in his ankle, and will be out of action for six months.

It’s a tough blow for Everton, as the lanky Belgian international had been key to the team’s resurgence in the past two months, pulling strings and providing bite in the Toffees’ midfield.

*UPDATE: Fellaini’s Wikipedia page has been corrected. Yesterday, it listed him as “Screech” Fellaini, and suggested that he had injured himself in the challenge with Kyrgiakos. Clearly the work of a Liverpool fan—and we had no idea that Saved by the Bell had been exported to the UK.

Galaxy Duo Plays Europe

U.S. and Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan is making his debut in the Europa League today, as his loan side Everton hosts Sporting Lisbon, while Donovan’s Galaxy teammate David Beckham, who is on loan to AC Milan, will have a nostalgic Champions League encounter this afternoon with Manchester United—site of his apprenticeship, his prime, and his infamous shoe-dodging episode.

Beckham did not feature in Milan’s last game, a 3-2 win over Udinese, so he should be rested and ready for this one, which is the marquee matchup in a slate of Round of 16 Champions League games, including Lyon v Real Madrid, Bayern Munich v Fiorentina, and FC Porto v Arsenal.

Check out this Sky News report on Beckham’s feelings about the prospect of playing his old team. [Spoiler: He says he won’t celebrate if he scores. Really? C’mon David. Lighten up.]

The AC Milan-Man U tilt is on Fox Sports Net live at 2:30 p.m. EST, with a re-broadcast on Fox Soccer Channel at 5:00.

Everton-Sporting Lisbon is under way now, on DirecTV channel 462 (it started at 12:30).