FORMIA, Italy -- An extension of Boston’s sports family will kick off its season this weekend in Rome. AS Roma, an Italian Serie A club owned by Celtics owner James Pallotta, will play host to Catania on Sunday.
It’s a long-awaited new beginning for the “giallorossi”, whose disappointing seventh-place finish last season wasn’t enough to qualify them for either Champions League or Europa League. Roma expect to reach the Champions League every year and make a run for the title. And, though Roma has built a strong team around veterans Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi, it has been absent from the tournament for the last two years.
The key to Roma’s return to the highest echelon of European soccer will be in Totti and De Rossi’s supporting cast. Roma’s biggest acquisition this off-season was Michael Bradley, a US international who will slot into midfield alongside De Rossi.
“I can improve my skills playing alongside De Rossi,” Bradley told reporters. “De Rossi and Totti have great experience. For me, they are the leaders of this team. We need to follow their lead.”
In the summer of 2009, Bradley and De Rossi played against each other when the U.S. and Italy played in the first game of the Confederations Cup in South Africa. De Rossi contributed one goal in a 3-1 victory for the Italians. Though Bradley was on the losing side, he played the same confident, passing game that attracted Roma enough to acquire him from Chievo Verona in June.
“I knew of Bradley from when I played against him,” added De Rossi. “But practicing together, I have found more about his quality as a player. He is a much better player than I thought.”
The combination of Bradley and De Rossi is expected to be potent, especially since Bradley made a positive splash in his first weeks with Roma. In a 2-1 win against Liverpool at Fenway Park on July 25, Bradley was one of Roma’s offensive catalysts, making accurate passes and scoring a goal. He scored against Aris in a preseason game last Sunday. Bradley’s form has delighted Roma head coach Zdenek Zeman, who has used Bradley to De Rossi’s right in a 4-3-3 formation.
“I think he’s played well,” Zeman said. “He’s a player who works hard. He’s [done] well, and he [keeps] his tempo very high.”
Roma (16-8-14, 56 points) was inconsistent last season. From the middle of December to the end of January, Roma went on a six-game unbeaten streak. The team’s Champions League hopes went down the drain because of a five-game winless run from April to May. Champions League-caliber clubs can’t afford such swings.
Bradley should be another step closer to consistency. Since Bradley left Major League Soccer in 2005, his career has been moving up. Following a stint with Heerenveen in Holland, where he was a successful scorer, Bradley moved to Germany’s Borussia Mochengladbach, where he notched another 10 goals. After a brief loan spell with Aston Villa in 2011, Bradley moved on to Chievo, where he played in all but three games.
Once his father, Bob Bradley, became head coach of the national team in 2006, the younger Bradley was exposed to a higher level of competition, which upped his game. He became a permanent fixture with the national team, scoring 10 goals, including a crucial late goal against Slovenia at the 2010 World Cup.
Bradley’s recent form has shown that he can be a game-changer. With six years of experience in European soccer, he may find himself at home with Roma. And while a winning performance by Bradley and Roma on Sunday won’t make them immediate favorites to participate in Champions League next year, it will certainly be a step in the right direction.
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