BOSTON — Walking up Yawkey Way during game day, it’s common to notice a sea of red shirts parading around the historic area, but Wednesday night was different.
John Henry’s other team, Liverpool FC, would appear in the historic ballpark, taking the field in a soccer match against Italian squad AS Roma. This matchup signaled the second meeting between these two teams at Fenway, the last being a Roma victory in 2012.
Although just an exhibition game, the street was filled to the brim with eager fans--many wearing red Liverpool jerseys, which could’ve been discerned as the hometown baseball team from a distance.
Inching closer, one can hear the blaring of the bagpipes amongst a circle of about six or seven pipers dressed in kilts. Red Sox jerseys weren’t pinned against the wall at the forefront of every souvenir shops. Liverpool kits of rising star Daniel Sturridge and aging legend Steven Gerrard replaced them.
There were a fair share of attendees who walked around and marveled, clearly curious by this “football” they observed during the United States’ run at the World Cup in June.
At the same time, most notably on the Liverpool side, fans of the team certainly extend to Boston. Ian Ayre, the Red’s Managing Director, strolled along the first baseline during practice at the park on Tuesday, and spectators in the crowd shouted, “Reus, no pressure.”
Ayre nodded his head and laughed.
Marcos Reus, the player mentioned, is a technically gifted German midfielder, among the best across, and he’s been linked as a transfer to many clubs around Europe. Since talented striker Luis Suarez, who dominated the Premier League last season, left for a massive fee of £75 million to La Liga giant Barcelona, many Liverpool faithful believe that a multiple big signings must happen this summer.
Manager Brendan Rodgers insists his current team will successfully compete in the Premier League, as it did in 2013-14.
“The philosophy doesn’t change, the personnel might,” he said in a press conference Wednesday. “Our game principles are very much the same. We’ve got to be defensively strong, good organization, press the ball really hard, and then, when we have the ball, create chances and retain possession as long as we can.”
But when the game started and neither of these well-known stars were suited up, you were reminded, while true soccer talent has come to America, it’s only preseason. After all, roughly a quarter of the field was a discolored green to cover the baseball diamond. The length of the field was 98 meters, instead of the traditional measurement of 110 meters.
When the game kicked off, though, the lack of Sturridge and Gerrard didn’t disappoint the crowd, largely consisting of Liverpool supporters snapping their cameras to seize the moment.
For the majority of the contest, the energy didn’t reach Anfield levels; aside from the traditional gasps at a close scoring chances, a quick “Ole” chant in the 67th minute captured most of the noise the sold-out crowd would make.
Then again, it’s not a Premier League or Champions League contest, and Rodgers acknowledged that fact.
“It was a great atmosphere,” Rodgers said. “The supporters gave us a great encouragement over the course of the evening, and for a preseason game, it was a really good game.”
In the 90th minute, AS Roma captured the 1-0 victory from a corner kick deflecting off Liverpool defender Daniel Agger. Liverpool fans were disappointed, but considering the solid turnout, it’s safe to say that quality soccer is appreciated in the United States.
Occurring just after of the World Cup didn’t necessarily make the crowd numbers of this competition much different than other international games in the area. Sold-out soccer crowds grace Gillette Stadium if the teams are compelling enough, Brazil vs. Portugal in September 2013 serving as a recent example.
Rodgers noted that soccer’s intrigue has begun to truly reach Americans after an appreciable World Cup campaign.
“Every time I come back to America, I sense the growing enthusiasm for football, and as you said, you had a very successful World Cup to get out of the group stages, and to qualify like you done was an incredible achievement. I think it grabs the nation and their interest in the sport.”