Decisions by the UEFA Executive Committee to force Russian and Ukrainian clubs competing in UEFA competitions to hold home games at neutral sites will have some immediate and possible knock-on effects for American players.
Following the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian military on Thursday, the UEFA Executive Committee held what they termed as an “extraordinary meeting” to determine the impact on ongoing and future competitions involving the two countries.
At stake immediately were the impact on games in the current knock-out rounds of the three ongoing UEFA competitions, the location of the Champions League final scheduled to be held in St. Petersburg in May, and any upcoming World Cup playoff matches set to be played in Moscow.
Beyond these limited cases, which amount to only a small handful of games, the meeting tackled the broader question of how to handle games in UEFA competitions set to be hosted in the impacted countries in the coming months, should the situation remain unresolved on the long-term.
Following the meeting, UEFA announced, “At today’s meeting, the UEFA Executive Committee also decided that Russian and Ukrainian clubs and national teams competing in UEFA competitions will be required to play their home matches at neutral venues until further notice.”
For Americans, this will immediately impact USMNT captain Tyler Adams and RB Leipzig in their upcoming Europa League Round of 16 knockout series against Spartak Moscow.
The first leg on March 10 will be played in Leipzig’s Red bull Arena as planned, however the return leg seven days later will have to be moved to a neutral site, which has yet to be determined.
Perhaps more generally significantly, the biggest spectacle in the European game has been given a new home. “The UEFA Executive Committee decided to relocate the final of the 2021/22 UEFA Men’s Champions League from Saint Petersburg to Stade de France in Saint-Denis.”
Currently, a number of Americans are still playing for the final 16 teams remaining in the competition. After Christin Pulisic lifted the trophy with Chelsea in Porto last season, the thought of a Yank reaching the final, now in Paris, is by no means off the table.
Most realistically, Christian Pulisic and Chelsea are likely to reach the quarterfinals after taking a 2-0 first-leg lead over Lille, which would put them only four games away from the impacted final.
Less likely, but still in the cards, are Weston Mckennie and Juventus, who have generally picked up steam lately after a slow start in league play. They still have to overcome Villarreal to reach the final eight, with whom they are tied 1-1 after the first leg. Whether McKennie would be available for a final in Paris will depend on how his recovery from broken bones in his left foot proceeds in the coming months.
The other USMNT players remaining in the competition – Lille’s Tim Weah and Salzburg’s Brenden Aaronson – are up against significantly longer odds to advance past the current stage, much less push through the quarter- and semifinal rounds.
More generally, there is still uncertainty on whether more significant punitive action will be taken against Russian teams internationally. Today, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) urged the cancelation of all sporting events set to be held in Russia or Belarus, who are seen as willing collaborators in their current aggression on Ukraine.
Reportedly, FIFA is also weighing whether Russia will even be eligible to play in the World Cup, should they qualify, in Qatar. For FIFA to take such a potent stand would be surprising, considering their habitually lax position on supporting events in countries with records of human rights abuses.
Nevertheless, further escalation of the situation in Ukraine, or an extended and violent occupation could lead to calls to disqualify Russian teams from UEFA competitions in general, including the 2022-2023 editions of the Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League.
UEFA confirmed that further meetings will take place to determine their policy as the situation in Ukraine develops.
“The UEFA Executive Committee further determined to remain on standby to convene further extraordinary meetings, on a regular ongoing basis where required, to reassess the legal and factual situation as it evolves and adopt further decisions as necessary.”