I’m very grateful to the fine folk at Cricket Wireless for sponsoring my attendance at yesterday’s exhibition “friendly” between the winningest team in the English Premier League, Manchester United, and one of the best teams in Europe, Associazione Sportiva Roma from the Italian Seria A League. Now don’t worry, I’m still a loyal Tottenham Hotspur fan, my Premier League team of choice, but their US tour doesn’t include Colorado (they beat The Chicago Fire last night, 2:0, but that was in Chicago) so I haven’t switched my allegiance to ManU but they did supply four players to the England World Cup team, including the frankly overrated Wayne Rooney so I can be at least somewhat supportive…
Anyway, suffice to say, a really great match up, the biggest friendly matchup in recent Colorado history. Official attendance was 54,117, which is just terrific: the more soccer fans we have, the more soccer we’ll get. A total win:win!
I don’t head to Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium very often, however, particularly not for really popular sporting events, and the 90min I allocated to get there and park was woefully inadequate. In fact, the traffic management was appalling, really awful. So bad that it took us an hour just to go the last 2/3 mile, meaning that this was our view at the starting whistle:
We didn’t actually see the field until 25min had elapsed, and soccer’s only 45min * 2. That means we missed about 1/3 of the game because the Mile High parking group and the Denver police department weren’t sufficiently well staffed to manage the flow of vehicles coming into the game. Since Broncos games have higher attendance, I can only conclude that either they were understaffed or that people show up for NFL games 2-3 hours early so they don’t miss the kickoff. Really frustrating!
Finally, though, we walked down the hallowed halls of the corporate boxes to find our seats:
And inside, the delightful Cricket Wireless team, snacks, beer, and superb seats:
We could get used to this sort of seating at a sporting event, for sure! Again, huge props to Cricket for letting us join them in the box.
We’d missed the first few goals, and when we showed up it was 3:0 Manchester, including the first of two goals by Rooney from just outside the penalty area and another one from Juan Mata. AS Roma didn’t seem to have a coherent strategy to defend their end of the pitch but they still managed to keep moving the ball up the field and had a couple of credible shots in the first half.
Second half opened with a breathtaking, amazing shot from Roma midfielder Miralem Pjanic popped a 65-yard kick over the head of daydreaming ManU keeper Ben Amos, bouncing it behind him and neatly right into the back of the net. Superb!
Ten minutes later, another goal for Roma put them back in spitting distance of evening up the score at 2:3, but they never did squeeze that third goal in and the game ended with the score Manchester 3, Roma 2. A great game, exciting, a solid showcase for the friendly Colorado fan base, even as Roma and ManU fans sat in the same sections, cheering on their respective teams!
The most controversial moment was when ManU player Will Keane cut across Benatia and into the box and the referee adjudges it was a foul. Here’s the pic I got:
Lots of booing, and it didn’t look legit to me either. But bad calls are, alas, part of the game.
Some additional pics I took as the game raced back and forth from end to end:
First off, the fans. Oh, so many Manchester fans in red!
The penalty kick that gained goal #2 for AS Roma in the latter part of the match:
In this picture, Roma’s #10 is much loved Francesco Totti, a late substitute who clearly helped them on the field.
A match always has more shots than goals, and this next picture is a beautiful cross set up by Manchester’s #18, Ashley Young:
The cross, beautifully set up, but… no goal this time.
Later, a free kick for Manchester, with the traditional referee arguing with a player who is out of place:
No goal this time either.
Finally, as with any football game, a lot of what you see are players going back and forth, and some tense action in the goal area. Nonetheless, notice how few of the players in this shot from near the end of the game are actually moving with any speed or urgency:
In fact, Manchester United coach Louis van Gaal complained about the team’s 3:2 win over Roma, saying that the altitude and the heat were both substantial obstacles for the players. Then again, ManU finished seventh in the Premier League standings this last season, a shocking display of mediocrity from a team that’s won the league championship more than any other single team in the League.
And when the game was wrapping up, being Colorado in the summer, we got this on the display monitors:
Fortunately we didn’t see much lightning at all, and the only rain we got was passing drizzles. Much ado about, well, not much.
Even with the parking snafu, it was a wonderful day at Sports Authority Field watching two world class teams play the beautiful sport, the one sport I really enjoy watching. Fabulous!
And many thanks again to the fine team at Cricket Wireless for supplying me with two tickets. We shall meet again, my friends, and enjoy another pro soccer game, I hope.
Disclaimer: yes, Cricket sent me tickets to the match. Which was darn “cricket” of them!