Red Sox owner Henry on hand as sold-out crowd takes in soccer match
BOSTON -- Even with the Red Sox in Toronto, the bars and streets surrounding Fenway Park had a normal feel to them on Wednesday night. Drinks flowed and the cheers were loud as fans dressed in red prepared to enter the stadium.
That red was worn in support of Liverpool FC, which took on AS Roma in a friendly at a sold-out Fenway Park. Roma won, 1-0, scoring off a corner kick in the 89th minute. Marco Borriello redirected the set piece through traffic, off Liverpool defender Daniel Agger and past keeper Brad Jones.
"It was a great atmosphere, and the supporters were fantastic -- both sides of supporters, really," said Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, whose club's fans significantly outnumbered those of the opposition. "And for a preseason game, it was a really, really good game."
Roma edged Liverpool, 2-1, in a friendly in July 2012 -- the last soccer match played at Fenway Park. Last season, both Roma and Liverpool finished second in their respective leagues, Italian Serie A and the English Premier League, and both qualified for the Champions League.
On Wednesday, the two teams felt each other out for much of the first half, keeping play tight in the midfield. There was some physical play early, good preparation for the Premier League, Rodgers said. By night's end, the teams had combined to use nearly 40 players; in friendly matches, there's no limit on substitutions. Both managers wanted to work in some of their younger players, including Liverpool's Adam Phillips, who is just 16 years old.
The first good chance during "Football at Fenway" came in the 33rd minute, when Roma's Ashley Cole played a ball from the end line toward the middle, and Francesco Totti volleyed it just wide from inside the box.
In the 57th minute, Liverpool got its best chance of the match when Rickie Lambert took a feed near the top of the box and drilled it toward the near post. But Roma keeper Lukasz Skorupski was up to the task, knocking the ball wide for a corner.
Five minutes later, Kristoffer Peterson made a good run and sent a cross from the end line toward the middle, but Skorupski knocked it toward the middle of the field and out of harm's way. Agger headed a free kick from Philippe Coutinho wide in the 66th minute as well.
The playing surface covered most of the usual baseball field. The grounds crew had to remove the pitcher's mound, made of about five tons of clay, but left the batter's box, home plate and the first-base line intact. The two benches sat in the outfield grass, near the warning track in front of the Green Monster. One goal sat in front of the visitors' dugout, the other near the bullpens in right field.
Liverpool and the Red Sox do have plenty in common. Liverpool is owned by Fenway Sports Group, an American sports investment company headed by Red Sox owner John Henry. The group, which bought the Red Sox in 2002, completed its purchase of Liverpool in October 2010. Henry was on hand Wednesday night and even chatted with Liverpool supporters outside the stadium following the match.
Wednesday's fixture marked the first stop on Liverpool's preseason tour in the United States. Roma and Liverpool are both part of the Guinness International Champions Cup, which pits some of Europe's elite clubs against each other on U.S. soil. That tournament begins this weekend.
There's been debate for years in European circles about whether these tours, with the difficult travel schedules, are adequate preparation for a team that starts its season in about a month. Roma manager Rudi Garcia acknowledged the difficulties but also the advantages of high-profile fixtures like the one at Fenway Park.
"If we play in such tournaments, it means we're a big club," Garcia said. "So I hope we play in these matches for a long time to come."
On Saturday, Roma will take on Manchester United in Denver. On Sunday, Liverpool will battle Olympiacos at Solider Field in Chicago. Roma finishes its trip with contests against Real Madrid at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas and Inter at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
Liverpool will play Manchester City at Yankee Stadium on July 30, then AC Milan in Charlotte on Aug. 2. The qualifier from each group will play in the final on Aug. 4 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami.
Overall, Rodgers was impressed by the knowledge of the crowd and sees soccer's growth in the United States every time he returns.
"Every time I come back here, I sense the growing enthusiasm for football," Rodgers said. "I just think it's a continuation of the last 15 years, where the sport has really grown and gotten better and better. ... I'm sure over the next 15 years, it will grow even more."
Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com.