On Wednesday night at Boston’s Fenway Park, 37,169 avid soccer spectators took in one of the most historic nights in the 100 year history of America’s most beloved ballpark. Yawkey Way was packed over two hours before Liverpool and AS Roma took to the pitch, while Liverpool supporters from around the globe walked through the Shankly Gates. To say the least, there were more than just a few Kopites calling.
Supporters of the Roma club were vastly outnumbered by Merseyside red, as the club owned by business tycoons John W. Henry and Tom Werner had fans in the centerfield bleachers, spilling into the AS Roma section to boot. Gerrard shirts flooded the stands with Suarez tattooed on the backs of some. And even Fernando Torres items were still in circulation.
The football gods were watching over Boston last night. Fenway’s air was classic and crisp. A cloudless sky accompanied the perfect mid-70s temperature. These conditions were a far cry from what Liverpool dealt with a week ago, when a heatwave hit the Metro West area upon the team’s Tuesday arrival.
Raheem Sterling got the start for the Reds and fellow youngster Ryan McLaughlin debuted for Brendan Rodgers at right back. Jay Spearing and Jonjo Shelvey headed up the midfield, with Alberto Aquilani in the mix.
Liverpool’s newest manager looked to add experience to the squad. Jamie Carragher was handed the captain’s armband, as he anchored a rearguard where he was partnered, in the middle, with Slovakian Martin Skrtel. Hungary’s Peter Gulacsi started in between the pipes. He was replaced by Brad Jones at halftime.
The match commenced with each team having opportunities to score, though both sides failed to so in the opening half.
Rodgers’ side had strong build-up play. However, the Reds struggled to play through a compact Roma 4-3-3, thus they resorted to long balls down the right flank. Joe Cole and Nathan Eccleston were on the receiving ends of the direct playing style. Both did extraordinarily well to hold up the ball for the rest of the attack.
“Nathan is a very young player whose movement was good and at times he spun up the side well,” said Rodgers. “Young Ryan McLaughlin playing at right back, in his first game. It was fantastic for him, playing against Francesco Totti, a legend of Roma and Italian football.
“Joe is trying to work himself into the team. He showed some fantastic moments of quality. It was an all-around decent night for us.”
When Jonjo Shelvey received the ball in the attacking third he showed just how underrated he is by the footballing community. The former Charlton man used his attacking prowess to create shots on goal and plenty of chances for his teammates to slot home an opener.
The best connection of the half came when Aquilani played a sensual ball to Joe Cole. Chelsea’s former midfielder brought down the pass with a sensational touch. Roy Hodgson’s signing was in the mood as he chipped Bogdan Lobont from the arc. Unfortunately, his effort bounced off the top of the bar to keep the match level.
The Aquaman to Cole connection was from finished on the night, as the two linked up several times for the first 45 minutes of play.
Featuring on the right side of the Liverpool midfield, the man who took in the latest American Pie film in his Four Seasons suite last week showed he still has a large arsenal of skill. Joe Cole dragged the ball behind his left leg to keep Liverpool’s possession streak alive late in the first half, and he later used a deft turn to squeeze by the Roma defense. Cole was tackled on the play and begged referee Storin Spocia for an attempt from 12 yards. The consistent officiating crew were having none of it. Known for his famous goal against Sweden at Germany 2006, the winger had made his last contribution on the Fenway green.
Then came Michael Bradley. The former coach’s son struggled in the opening moments of the game, sending poor through-balls and chipping the ball out of touch. As the match proceeded, the American international picked up his game. He linked very well with right wingback Aleandro Rosi. The marauding runs from the Roma man led to both of the Wolves’ tallies.
Bradley split the Liverpool defense several times, before running onto a through-ball created by his right-sided partner. The American took his chance very well, passing the ball by Brad Jones’ right hand to see it fizz off the post and into the Liverpool goal.
The New Jersey-born footballer has got his career with the Italian side off to a phenomenal start, as he has both assisted and scored in his first two games with the team.
For their next trick, the Italian side played a passage of football that would have made Pep Guardiolla jealous, while giving Gary Neville a ‘goalgasm.’ Fancy interplay at the top of the 18, saw a wall pass go awry, though a Roma player latched on to the end of it, before hammering it into the center of the box, where Alessandro Florenzi rifled his shot into the back of an empty onion bag.
Down two approaching the 70th minute, Liverpool appeared deflated. The young side showed frustration, as Jon Flanagan went back to his aggressive tackling style and the rest of the team were in a state of shock.
Charlie Adam’s goal 10 minutes from time changed the mood.
The Scottish playmaker planted his shot by Lobant and into the corner of the far post. He fizzed his shot towards the Red Sox bullpens in center field, but the net saved the precious advertising wars.
Liverpool pressed Roma for the remaining ten minutes, but failed to convert in the final third. Dani Pacheco and Flanagan had the best opportunities to force penalty kicks.
Despite the disappointment spelled across the faces of Liverpool supporters, former Swansea gaffer Brendan Rodgers was all smiles post-game.
“I was really pleased tonight. I though there were a lot of real positives from the game. Our pressing from the front was very, very good. The goal we scored was excellent. Overall, there were a lot of positives to take from the game.”
The Northern Irishman was impressed with the play of substitute Lucas Leiva. Upon his entrance to the match, he made a harsh ball-winning tackle, giving supporters shades of last season‘s ingenious.
“I thought in the second half, Lucas was fantastic when it came to some his passing and quality. The structure of our game was good. Once we introduce our quality players back into the group, you’ll see that extra step up in the midfield and final third. Overall, no complaints.”
“Absolutely, I think the boys are working really, really well,” said Rodgers of his lads. “I’ve been very, very pleased, the players have been fantastic. A couple of the ideas that we’re trying to put on them, tonight, actually created a lot of chances. The most important thing is getting into good condition and we’re doing that at the moment.”
Of his side’s only goal, Kenny Dalglish‘s successor at the helm told the media, “It was a well worked goal. We showed good patience moving the ball from side of the pitch to the other. DanI Pacheco laid a great ball. A perfect pass that Charlie hit first time. A terrific goal.”
However, he was not pleased with the tallies his team conceded.
“On their two goals we need to be better, going forward, for sure. We defended poorly, for sure.”
For the club, Rodgers made a special point of thanking the city of Boston, which has been the Liverpool base for their 10 day North American tour. The team leaves the area on Thursday and will depart for Baltimore, where they will end their excursion to the States against Tottenham Hotspur.
“I would like to go on the record to give a big thank you to the people of Boston. It’s been absolutely magnificent. At the climax it was playing at an incredible stadium. I said to the players before the game, ‘When you‘re fifty, you’ll be able to tell your grandkids that you played, actually, football at Fenway Park.’ It’s something that’ll stay with them. A big thank you to everyone, the people of Boston and the people here at Fenway Park, because we‘ve been received fantastically well.”
Rodgers fielded a question about Joe Allen with the following response: “I will only talk about players that are Liverpool players.”
For Liverpool supporter Daniel Cueva, 17, the man of the match was Jonjo Shelvey. The No. 33 was instrumental in midfield, hitting the target several times, while using nifty skill moves to create space for himself and his teammates.
Cueva, a senior and varsity footballer for his high school team enjoyed the play of Suso, who was introduced on the right wing as Joe Cole‘s replacement at the intermission.
“I think he showed some promise. He is obviously a little young, so he needs some time to adjust to the top flight game.”
“Charlie Adam’s goal was a thing of beauty,” said Cueva, “Left-foot, beautiful hit. I’m looking forward to seeing more of that in the Premier League season.”
For the young man, at the same age of Raheem Sterling, it was a night to remember.
“It was the chance of a lifetime, I think I’m going to die happy now, because of that,” he said when asked about his time at Fenway and walking through the Shankly Gates on Yawkey Way.
“It was the best sports experience I’ve had in a very long time.”
Seeing Roma‘s Francesco Totti play “was a privilege. He didn’t get too much action, but when he did get the ball, you saw the composure and experience that he has on it.”
With the optimism of a new campaign in sight, Cueva remains hopeful that “If [Liverpool] play up to their potential, they could probably finish top four with a Carling Cup or FA Cup.”
Liverpool Football Club start competing, for real, one week from today in their first European match in over a season.