BOSTON – When looking at the stands on Wednesday evening—just the stands—Fenway Park looked like its usual self: filled almost to capacity with fans wearing bright red.
But it wasn’t a normal to-do for America’s Most Beloved Ballpark, as a sold-out crowd took its seats for a preseason friendly between Liverpool and Roma, both reigning runners-up in their respective English Premier League and Italian Serie A.
The game looked destined for a penalty shootout, which is standard for exhibition matches this summer immediately after normal time, until Roma broke the deadlock in the 90th minute through Marco Boriello, who flicked a corner kick from Leandro Paredes into the back of the net to give the giallorossia 1-0 decision versus Liverpool. Penalties—often called a crapshoot for their often harsh nature of deciding games—might have suited the crowd more than the anticlimactic finish Boriello provided.
Most of the game’s first half was spent knocking the ball around, a cautious approach by two teams still over one month from starting their campaigns. A shootout, while perhaps unfair, would have no doubt offered more excitement.
And yet, Wednesday night’s Fenway faithful seemed to appreciate the match, no matter how dull the seemingly endless possession battle lasted.
But from an aesthetic, off the field perspective, it was, of course, different.
Pesky’s Pole took a back-seat to two separate metal framed structures: nets on either side of a field that was well below standard dimensions for international soccer. Seventy-five percent of the baseball diamond, including the pitcher’s mound, got covered in temporary grass to give the venue a makeshift soccer pitch. Seats normally ideal for viewing the nation’s favorite pastime suddenly provided an awkward perspective for the world’s favorite sport.
Not that the game could have been helped by better seating. Though both teams are among the strongest and most storied clubs in the world, neither was at full strength. No player that competed in this summer’s World Cup took the field, likely for rest, while a mix of young up-and-comers and the latest recruits from the summer transfer window tried admirably to establish some team chemistry.
Ultimately, it was obvious that both sides were treating the game more as a friendly and a marketing ploy to reach out to their respective American supporter groups than a competitive fixture. Roma’s goal even looked accidental. Boriello latched onto Paredes’ driven cross, deflecting it with his shin to send the ball squirting through the legs of Liverpool’s Jack Robinson and trickling into the net past goalkeeper Brad Jones.
When opposing teams homer against the Red Sox, boos usually follow. But when Boriello tallied, the crowd—made up of mostly Liverpool supporters—“oohed’’ while others applauded. That’s not to say the Reds fans were happy to concede, either.
The match was listed as a home game on Liverpool’s official website, and it certainly felt that way. Fans entering Fenway Park through Gate A walked through a temporary entranceway emblazed with the words “You’ll Never Walk Alone,’’ Liverpool’s official motto. The Liverpool crest adorned the Green Monster, too. And while “Forza Roma’’ shouts were quickly drowned out, Liverpool fans wasted no time heckling Ashley Cole, Roma’s freshly signed left back, who has spent most of his career in the EPL.
“It’s the second time we’ve been here, It was a great atmosphere,’’ said Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers. “The support was great.
“Every time I come back to America I sense the growing enthusiasm for football…It’s a knowledgeable crowd here in America. A lot of the channels I watch here in America show great coverage, great detail in football.’’
John Henry, who is also the majority owner of the Red Sox and owns The Boston Globe, was quite visible throughout the game, too, conducting television interviews and walking around the park. As was James Pallotta, the Roma president, who is a Boston-based business man with a minority share in the Celtics.
Roma is now 2-0-0 against Liverpool at Fenway. Their last victory came in July 2012, 2-1.