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Wrapping Up North America

That's a lot of wrapping paper.

Paul Frederiksen-USA TODAY Sport

If there's anything to be taken from friendlies, it's nothing. I think. Damnit, it's early. Where's my coffee? Where's my soul? Whither Simplicio? Anyway, if you've been hanging around Roma for more than a month or two, you'll know the pattern: a promising preseason equates to boundless disappointment in reality, much akin to your daughter bringing home Bobo Vieri, while a summer of getting waxed like a yeti about to head on a tropical vacation indicates happy, happy times in the upcoming season. It's the only time of year when fans who know better will drink to a nine goal loss.

The North American rundown.

MLS All-Stars 3-1

Toronto FC 4-1

Chelsea 1-2

1. Roma's better than MLS competition.

Well no shit.

2. Roma's worse than Chelsea.

See above.

None of the teams should be assessed based on the recent matches, but in terms of what one's naked eyes could extract from the pitch, there was a gulf in class - if simply based on individual talent - between Roma and those who get their checks made out in North American languages. (You know - the standards: American, Tim Horton's, I-speak-French-what-the-@#$%-is-this-you're-yelling-at-me-and-don't-call-it-French Canadian, etc.) There was also a gulf in class, though less sizable, betwixt Roma and Chelsea. I've got news: transfers fees ain't just numbers. This should also be readily apparent by the head-slapping infusion of class into the midfield in the form of one Kevin Strootman. Kid's the business.

Roma outplayed the MLS players across 180 minutes. Obviously. One of them wasn't really a team but a pickup club in bedazzled outfits, kind of the football equivalent of a dancing street gang. Chelsea, meanwhile, spent many minutes playing cat and mouse before turning on the juice and don't give me otherwise. Roma's throttle was higher, yet Chelsea still commanded the match. It was men versus boys. Then Chelsea showed up. Predictable things happened. The devil's in the details and Roma is a long, long way from winning six out of ten against the likes of a solidified Chelsea club. But then you knew that.

3. Jose Mourinho will always be Jose Mourinho.

Check the carnage report. If there's one guarantee in this sport, it's that Mourinho teams will play dirty. Even in a friendly, studs up is a way of life and no ligament will go untested.

Serie A's a safer place given he chose to return to Chelsea, not Inter.

4. Noco Lamela

Wonderful little hustle after the ball during Mark Schwarzer's improptu Benny Hill routine. Otherwise, they could've left him in Italy. He did next to nothing for three matches, and he's probably the last player for Roma who needs fitness tuneups. Summer 2013 is the same as Spring 2013.

Yes, this should concern you.

5. Striker situation is no clearer.

Mattia still hasn't played, Marco was left behind like the Italian stallion version of Macauly Culkin only to be flown over when he turned down Malaga, Junior freaking Tallo started a match, and Pablo Osvaldo was only fit enough for one training session and one match. Oh, and Southampton's still interested. So are other teams and Roma's reportedly ready to sell. Lovely.

They signed Gervinho, but even a false nine he is not. The man's a winger - or at least that's where he starts. Erik Lamela is an attacking midfielder at this age - perhaps in a few years we can talk about a conversion, but at this stage in his development, his tendencies of dropping back to pick up the ball and run at defenses don't appear to mesh well with the type of center forward Rudi desires. And Totti's closer to being deployed as a LWB than he is a striker these days.

I don't know. You don't know. More importantly, Roma doesn't seem to know.

6. Roma DDR desperately needs to morph into Azzurri DDR.

Same thing, different season: Michael Bradley's positioning and tactical sense. No one - and I mean no one - offers more space to the opposition than Michael Bradley. Sure, he runs and runs and runs, and that's nice to watch for the casual fan, but it's fucking wonderful for the opposition. No one's healthy can handle another season of the space Michael leaves behind his teammates, or the extended presence of Bradley - who's easily one of the most likable players around - on the pitch unless he's given one of those child's leashes keeping him latched to Benatia. Marquinhos and Piris are gone - this is a slow, slow, slooooooow defense. They can't afford this. There is no safety net - they need DDR in body and spirit.

7. Midfield is indeed a numbers problem.

Miralem took a knock and thus missed the Chelsea friendly, but no one seems to have earned the eye and praise of Rudi so much as Pjanic. This would seem to indicate he's a near-guaranteed starter in the midfield, especially as he offers something vastly different to his comrades in the form of technique, vision, and sophistication. He's not quite the lazy genius in class, throwing rolled up paper balls, drawing cartoons, and dozing off before lapping the entire class without even knowing what the hell the test was all about, but the quiet, attentive type who makes it all look so easy without anyone really noticing the ferocity with which the gears are churning in his mind.

Then there's Florrest, who won a position immediately with his innate tactical understanding - the boy's a born footballer - and nonstop engine. Rudi even mentioned playing him on the wing, which wouldn't surprise me, especially when September 2nd arrives and they've sold both Pablo and Marco and Mattia's still tenderly nursing his injury because have you seen his girlfriend you would too. Oh, and Kevin Strootman's a lock because until DDR finds his inner Daniele, Kevin is far and away Roma's most complete midfielder in terms of class and breadth of abilities. So there's three - what should be, anyway - necessary starters and Daniele De Rossi.

You see the problem. And unless he gets his shit together, it may mean Daniele sees the bench, which would be a shame because tossing Strootman deep is such a waste of his capacity to enter the box and wreak havoc while also covering the entire left side just because he's the Dutch Jesus there I said it.


This leaves Bradley as the real vice-DDR which is another whole set of problems. There does seem to exist a sort of organic structure - a Pjanic/Florenzi, DDR (Bradley), Strootman (Marquinho) - to the midfield, but somehow, Rudi needs to find a way to get Miralem, Florrest, and Kevin on the pitch all at the same time while also extracting the best from DDR and making him the second name in the XI once again.

This is why they pay Garcia the not-big-but-shit-it's-better-than-Lille bucks.

8. 72.9% of Inter Maicon is the best rightback Roma's had since a slightly less grumpy Christian Panucci.

Douglas is clearly rusty - he played roughly twelve minutes last year and has been in the gym for much of the summer, waiting for a non-EU slot to open up via The Italian Method - but he's also quite clearly several cuts above what Roma's had on either flank for a very long time. There's every chance Christian Panucci is the most underrated Roma player in the last decade, even if he is rated, which says even more, but Maicon could lap the field with that dollop of nostalgia if he turns in just a fraction of what he once was. The man's a rumbling monster when he gets a head of steam and he's not entirely useless on the backend, either.

What is this whole "two-way players" business? Roma's not supposed to have these beacons of opulence.


The tone may change, but the emphasis will not. Spectacular saves and equally spectacular blunders.

This. This is the Roma I know.

10. Cesare's watching.

Rudi was option, what, #42, and only after he was fired.

What, you didn't think we'd forget, did you?