The new third-tier competition in Europe enters the knockout phase for the first time, with Monday’s draw setting February’s international travel schedule for a trio of Yanks, including Richard Ledezma, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Konrad de la Fuente.
The format of the newly-minted Europa Conference League sees an initial round of knockout games over two legs in February between the third-place finishers in the Europa League one level above, and those who finished second in their groups in this competition.
While there are no marquee matchups in this round, and likely not any happening all the way through to the final, February’s games will see a trio of Yanks attempting to extend their journey in Europe, and rack up the frequent flyer miles along the way.
In their matchup against Bodø/Glimt, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Celtic will add a couple thousand miles round-trip to their tally, as they will fly to central Norway to face the just-crowned Norwegian champions.
While finishing second place in their group, the Norwegians had perhaps one of the most notable performances of the competition’s group stage, smashing eventual group winners Roma by a 6-1 margin.
Carter-Vickers and his Celtic teammates will certainly face a tough test, however will have the advantage of game-fitness, whereas the Norwegians will still be in the midst of their long winter break.
Konrad de la Fuente and Marseille have the longest trip, as they must fly more than 2000 miles each way to the Azerbaijani city of Baku to face Qarabağ.
Finally, perhaps the most intriguing round of games sees PSV Eindhoven take on Israeli team Maccabi Tel Aviv. In addition to having the chance to escape the drab Dutch winter in February for the guaranteed pleasant weather in Tel Aviv, PSV is slowly working American starlet Richard Ledezma back into the fold after he missed substantial time while recovering from a knee injury.
Ledezma has yet to get off the bench for PSV’s first-team in his two times in uniform since returning – once in Eredivisie play and another time in their final Europa League game – however the two games in February could be a fine chance for him to see starting action, depending on how he integrates into the first-team over the next two months.
The games are set to be played on consecutive Thursdays, February 17 and 24.
Europa Conference League Knockout Draw
Olympique Marseille (Konrad de la Fuente) – Qarabağ
PSV Eindhoven (Richard Ledezma) – Maccabi Tel Aviv
Celtic (Cameron Carter-Vickers) – FK Bodø/Glimt