I stepped out of the St. Louis airport, and it felt like how I'd imagine the inside of a mouth feels. After a hold up at the rental car place (thanks a lot, Hertz), my family and I saw a group of native Missourians doing wheelies on their hogs on the freeway to our Airbnb, and that's when I knew I'd see something special on this trip. No, not the wheelies on the freeway, or the alarming amount of 'stars and bars' memorabilia sold out at the Missouri Civil War Museum we would visit, but rather seeing Francesco Totti and Co. play live.
While I considered heading to the Westin hotel to get an up-close look at the team, I refrained knowing that I would be able to see them later that night at training. The Busch stadium security guards made it difficult to gain admission into practice, as the only spectators were supposed to be Roma U.S. Academy kids and parents, however I eventually persevered with the help of Paul Rogers, AS Roma's Head of Digital. Training lasted about an hour, with the team playing an 11v11 scrimmage on a condensed pitch.
The black shirt team was composed of mostly starters while the red-bib team was mostly substitutes. The match was heated due to the condensed pitch, so flying tackles were seen all over as if it was a real match. At one point, everyone even turned to manager Luciano Spalletti after heated calls for a penalty when Juan Iturbe was fouled near goal. After practice, some players went off to sign autographs for the academy kids, and others stayed to sign autographs and chat with the casual fans there such as myself.
Gerson seems extremely talented, but he also looks like he might have a hard time adjusting. He's a nice guy, but very timid. Alessandro Florenzi's energy and excitement is as infectious as I'd imagined it would be, and Kevin Strootman was really professional and seemed almost fluent in Italian. And yes, Leandro Paredes's eyes are as piercing in person as they are on the internet, especially in contrast to his bleach-blonde highlighted hair. Edin Dzeko and Mohamed Salah were great with the younger fans as well.
On the morning of the match we took the obligatory Anheuser-Busch factory tour, and that's where I first started to notice the masses of Liverpool fans. The only other Roma fans I saw in the morning were hipsters on bicycles near downtown. At the match, we sat in the Roma section which was an awesome experience. Outside of the Livepool fans singing 'You'll Never Walk Alone' before the match, the small contingent of Roma fans dominated the night and made the most noise. There were even a few anti-Lazio chants.
Spalletti fielded what figures to be close to his opening-day starting 11 (last-minute signings pending), with Paredes filling in for Daniele De Rossi. The former-Empoli man played admirably on the defensive end, although he struggled with his passing early and seemed like he still needs some time to settle in somewhere offensively. Paredes, Strootman, and Nainggolan made a good midfield overall though. So good that Spalletti might really consider moving De Rossi to center-back now, which could actually be better than any of the center-back signings Roma has made this summer.
Other first-half standouts for Roma included Stephan El Shaarawy, Emerson, and Alisson. El Shaarawy's touch and elusiveness were very impressive in person. Emerson held his own at left-back for the most part, and Alisson was fantastic in goal. He showed many desirable qualities for a young goalkeeper. Wojciech Szczesny is going to have his hands full winning the starting job back.
Although Roma were less threatening after a mass of substitutions early on in the second half, Francesco Totti played, much to the delight of the Roma fans in attendance. Roma ended up winning the match 2-1 thanks to goals by Edin Dzeko and Mohamed Salah to complete a great experience. After the match Spalletti made the team condition, while the Liverpool team took whatever the opposite of a victory lap is around the stadium, which was entertaining.
Oh yeah, and the best thing about St. Louis? You can get your alcohol in a to-go cup if you need to.