Europa League: When and where

FOX will be the new home of the Europa League beginning next season, bringing you all the action live across the FOX family of outlets. This year fans can follow all the Europa League action on GolTV, DirecTV, and in real-time on game days via @FOXSoccerTrax . Europa League resumes play on February 16th at 12 P.M EST.

The Europa League -- the red-headed step-child of European competition -- gets a chance in the spotlight this Thursday, as English goliaths Manchester United and Manchester City take their bows in the tournament.

United will travel to the Netherlands to take on Dutch giants Ajax, while City face a tricky test in Portugal at defending champions Porto, as 14 round of 32 games kick off at noon ET. FOX Soccer is the new home of the Europa League with telecasts beginning next season. This year, all the games can be seen on DirecTV and followed in real-time on matchdays via Twitter @FoxSoccerTrax .

The Europa League is the old UEFA Cup. UEFA renamed the tournament three years ago to try and give it some of the glitter shone by the Champions League. It hasn't entirely worked. The UEFA Cup has always been a runner's up competition, and as the Champions League has become the greatest club competition in the game, the UEFA Cup become something of an afterthought. Whatever you might want to call it, the UEFA Cup was once an important trophy, and it has been hoisted by many glittering names. Liverpool, Inter Milan and Real Madrid are among the many past winners, and for smaller teams, this remains a major prize.

Even with those names written in UEFA Cup history, this is unfamiliar territory for the proud Red Devils. The UEFA Cup is the only trophy mighty United have never won. United have appeared in the UEFA Cup before, reaching the quarterfinals back in 1985, but they are so often in the Champions League that they rarely get a chance to play for it. Now, because of United's star power and world-wide recognition, the Europa League is expected to be followed more closely than ever.

The funny thing is that while most overlook the Europa League, it is not a bad tournament. Sure, there are several teams that won't make anyone's anyone's A-List -- Stoke, Brugge and Red Bull Salzburg are still in the game -- but this knockout round reads like a list of the game's past greats. Atletico Madrid, Lokomotiv Moscow, Sporting Lisbon, Lazio and PSV Eindhoven are just some of the storied names left in the competition.

So far, the tournament has provided more than its fair share of thrills. American Sacha Kljestan's Anderlecht went a perfect 6-0-0 in the group stage, and Jermaine Jones' Schalke has gone on a strong run into the knockout stages. The best game of the tournament saw Brugge recover from a 3-0 deficit to down Maribor 4-3 in a November thriller in Slovenia. And tiny Dublin club Shamrock Rovers didn't win a single game, but won the hearts of many fans around the world for its stylish football and class in defeat.

And while many fans in Manchester are disappointed for their club's Champions League exit, anyone who thinks the UEFA Cup -- or the Europa League -- doesn't matter should consider this. My childhood team, the small Scottish side Dundee United, considers this tournament one of their highest points -- and they lost in the final.

The Arabs lost to Sweden's Goteborg in 1987, in a two-legged final 2-1. Yet, the story doesn't end there. The team and its fans response to the defeat was supremely classy and sporting; so much so that FIFA awarded the team the first-ever Fair Play award. To this day, Dundee United fans of a certain age still wear scarves commemorating the fact that they finished second.