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New England Soccer Enthusiasts,
There was finally a buzz around Fenway Wednesday night for the first time since possibly Opening Day. Maybe longer? The stadium was decked out in Liverpool red. There was a flood of soccer jerseys throughout the city. In the midst of the recent rejuvenation of soccer fever in the U.S., people were excited to get their fix of the beautiful game.
Liverpool were in desperate need to have a quality performance for new manager Brendan Rodgers in hopes of taking a vital step forward with the Premiereship season weeks away. Sadly, their best effort could only muster a 2-1 defeat. What’s worse is more than a few key first teamers for Liverpool (Skrtel, Carragher, Aquilani) were on the pitch. Possibly even more troubling is that the score could have easily been tipped even more unevenly in Roma’s favor had it not been for the stellar play of Hungarian keeper Péter Gulácsi.
Those of you at the game already you know this, but for those who weren’t – there were two stories going on.
To be more accurate – Roma dominated. In a night that had few bright spots for Liverpool, Raheem Sterling performed with notable energy and creativity without much activity showing up on the stat sheet – short of the first Liverpool shot on goal (and a yellow card).
Roma dictated gameplay early, accounting for the first three quality scoring chances before the clock struck 10 minutes. Liverpool somehow managed by having brief moments of offensive flurries throughout the first half. To be fair, what should be one of their strongest assets – their midfield – looked confused at best throughout the first half…short of a great shot that hit the cross bar in the 32nd minute. Throughout the first half, everything looked to be hard for Liverpool – poor spacing, over-struck long balls and generally no real sense of cohesion.
Argentine Pablo Daniel Osvaldo was the top man on the pitch for Roma. He had his way with Liverpool’s defense the entire game. It was a defense that had most of their starters playing.
After the half the competition leveled a bit. In the 56th minute, Liverpool had a set piece from 30 yards out that beat an outstretched keeper but sailed inches wide. Roma countered with a breakaway to no avail.
American Michael Bradley was the recipient of a fortuitous bounce and had a quality finish to put Roma on top. Bradley is a new addition to the Italian side after putting in a good season last year at another Italian club – Chievo.
The goal put the Italians in the driver seat for good. For what it’s worth, a fine array of weaving passes came together in a beautiful goal in the 69th to put Roma ahead 2-0. Charlie Adams had a great strike on a rolling service that he tucked away to make the result a bit more respectable for the “hosts.”
The environment around Fenway was more electric Wednesday night than its been at any point in the past 2 years…possibly 3 in my opinion. Had this been my first time at Fenway – knowing that this was “Red Sox Country” – I’d think this is a great venue. A live atmosphere, fans happy to be there and, generally speaking, a buzz. My ride into work comes and goes through Fenway, so I’m there often. Say what you will, but if you want to tell me the vibe around Fenway is the same it was 3 years ago, you’re kidding yourself. At times this year, it’s been downright depressing to be around the stadium.
Not on Wednesday night though.
There was electricity. We caught a glimpse of the future of world sport. People from different cultures, speaking different languages coming together to share in the ritual of sport. With our upcoming Olympics, the timing couldn’t have been better.
In a way, it was a sign of things to come. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – baseball is a dying sport. Soccer – along with basketball and football – will be the 3 biggest sports in 20 years (and football might even be a questionable call at this point). The international friendly breathed a much needed gust of fresh air into a living relic of Fenway Park that houses a team past its prime playing in a sport in the dying embers of its glory.
Overall, we saw more first-team players from Roma and it showed. I don’t think Liverpool – even with their starters – are anywhere close to competing for a top 4 spot in the Premiereship. My heart goes out to Brendan Rodgers because he’s got his work cut out for him in a position that seems to be doomed before it even started. Steven Gerrard is well past his prime. Eduardo Suarez, while a fine striker and workhorse – is not going to carry the weight for a club competing for a title. And they’ve spent incredibly poorly over the past two seasons.
I thought it was interesting that FSM spared no expense in promoting this match but couldn’t pay the employees to remove the net behind home plate. For those of you (with me) in that position know how much this would have improved the experience.
The game drew to a close among Liverpool chants (thank god there were no ‘Yankees Suck’ chants) from the crowd. It’s been a while since I heard even that much enthusiasm for the Sox.
Sure, Liverpool went through the motion for the new owners to gain a more international fan base. But if I were directing Liverpool I’d be worried not only about the product on the field but the overall culture of complacency that seems to be rampant in the club’s blood currently. Sound like a familiar problem?