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Real Madrid vs Roma: A First-Hand ICC Experience

Let’s just say it left a lot to be desired.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see Roma play in the States a number of times since American ownership took over. Starting with Fenway in 2012, I’ve made numerous weekend and day trips in the years that have followed to Philadelphia, Washington, and Boston. Plus, Roma’s even played at Red Bull Arena twice, my “home” stadium as a New York Red Bulls season ticket holder. When it was announced that my beloved Giallorossi would be returning to my “backyard” to play Real Madrid at MetLife Stadium, truth be told, I was pretty hyped.

The ICC isn’t Serie A or the Champions League. In the end, it’s just a bunch of overhyped, overpriced pre-season friendlies meant to rake in US dollars for the promoters and clubs. However, I always try and take the opportunity to support Roma in person when possible.

Last year’s Roma organized fan fest at Harvard blew this year’s training out of the water.

Last summer, I was able to bring my, at the time girlfriend, now-fiancé , to her first live Roma game at Red Bull to see i Lupi take on Tottenham. She ended up being one of the loudest people in a section filled with Spurs supporters and she loved every minute of it (except Manolas rolling around on the ground repeatedly but that’s a story for another day). A few weeks later, we took a weekend trip to Boston with her cousin and her cousin’s husband (A Juve fan) to see Roma take on the Scudetto holders at Foxboro. Again, she loved every minute of it, from the opening training session, to the tailgate, to the actual match. It was further affirmation that I was marrying the right woman.

Last summer’s ICC matches made her a fan.

I knew that last summer’s experiences had gotten her to feel more of an affinity for the squad when she exclaimed, “We’re screwed!” when the Nainggolan sale news broke. With the news that Roma was returning to the metro area, it didn’t take much convincing for her to join me for the Madrid match. She wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about the open training session at Red Bull Arena, but decided to attend in hopes of getting close to one of her favorites; Florenzi or El Shaarawy (Luckily for me, she gravitates toward cute Italian men).

Our first of two trips to Jersey began with the ride down to Red Bull for the training session. To sum it up in short: waste of time. To begin, all of the fans were seated on one side of the field. We were able to secure two front row midfield seats, and despite them being bathed in the blazing August sun on a humid day, it seemed like a score. That was until Roma set up across on the far side of the field field in the shade. The players went through their warm ups, scrimmaged a bit on a short field, and then practiced some penalties. The session, which was advertised to last from 6:00-7:30, ended by 7:05. To make matters worse all of the players went straight to the locker room, except for Fuzato who signed a few autographs behind the goal he was working at. My Roma flag (one of two in the stadium) hanging proudly from the concrete wall in front of the seats was not enough to draw any of the players’ glances, let alone attention.

Roma practiced a long way from the fans at Red Bull Arena.

While most people stayed to watch Real Madrid take the field at 8:00, we decided to leave and seek out the Roma bus. I knew beforehand the team bus would be in a secure area, so there was no hope of approaching players outside the stadium. However, with the practice over so early, my fiancé and I joined a handful of other fans in bidding the bus a farewell and showing the players some support. We got a wave from one player, it looked like Coric, but I can’t be sure as he was wearing a ballcap through tinted glass. It was an anticlimactic ending to a very underwhelming experience. After last year’s open session run by the team was such a great experience at Harvard, this one organized by the ICC was a major disappointment.

Putting our disappointing Monday experience behind us, excitement returned for Tuesday’s match with Madrid. The trip down started great with virtually no traffic getting over the George Washington Bridge at rush hour. Maybe this was redemption for the previous night’s suffering. I should’ve known better, as the smooth drives down to Jersey and back to New York were some of the highlights of the night.

The closer we got to the stadium, the more threatening the sky became. We parked the car and begin eating our sandwiches and having a beverage, when the bolts began appearing in the distance. I checked the weather app which showed thunderstorms looming any minute, so we choked down our sandwiches and suds and hightailed it into the stadium for cover.

The rains came along with the lightning, and everyone spilled into the causeways. As we patiently waited for the storms to pass and the stands to reopen, I took mental notes of the fans that passed by. I had estimated about a 90/10 advantage for Madrid in terms of supporters, but as fan after fan passed by, I realized that might’ve been a bit optimistic from a Roma standpoint. The storms finally passed and we made our way to the Roma supporters section. The seats were great, but clearly people don’t read when they buy tickets because less than half our section was wearing giallorosso. To make matters worse, the most obnoxious Madrid fans were seated directly behind us.

The game started and Real quickly scored less than two minutes in on a great ball from Bale to Ascencio with Marcano in pursuit. The Spaniard was burned badly by his compatriot and Olsen was slow off his line. I quickly realized in living color what I’d already known all along; Olsen isn’t Alisson. Real continued to own the game and in the fifteenth minute Marcano was burned again, this time by Bale. That’s when I realized that our center back issues behind Fazio and Manolas are far from solved.

If the two goal deficit in fifteen minutes and watching Marcano weren’t bad enough, the fact that drunken Madrid fans behind us spilled their full beer all over my fiance’s seat made matters worse. I could see her blood start to boil over as this group, especially the woman, was already on her nerves. She turned and asked them if they were going to dry her seat, to which they responded they didn’t have napkins and didn’t offer a solution. As we turned back around they began chatting about us in Spanish. Much to their shock I responded to them in Spanish saying that I understood and their tune quickly changed and became apologetic (I guess those college Spanish classes came in handy). As the drunken old man asked what he should use to clean the mess I responded with “la camisa de Real Madrid” to which the girl exclaimed “What the f-ck?!” while old man gasped in utter shock. The apologies continued and the situation fizzled out.

The view from the Roma supporters section. Unfortunately it was inundated with Real Madrid fans.

Unfortunately, with the way Roma were playing, it appeared as if putting a couple of Madrid fans in their place with my rudimentary Spanish would be the highlight of the night. As the game continued my favorite female Real fan continued to be quite a gem, as she screamed “F*CKING LOSERS” and “We have a goalkeeper” at the Roma players every few minutes. Quite an astute observer, she might have a future as a contributor on a Real site somewhere.

Roma picked up their play a bit in the second half after a massive influx of subs from both sides, but it was clear that Roma were second best on the evening. Fortunately, Strootman scored with about ten minutes remaining to give us something to cheer about and silence the Madrid fans. I prayed for a late Roma goal to force penalties and allow me to throw a smug look at our amiga but it wasn’t to be. It was clear by the end of the game that Roma still have a lot to work on before they travel to Turin for their first match versus Torino.

As we quickly made our way to the lot and got out in record time, my fiancé informed me that I was lucky that this wasn’t her first Roma experience, otherwise she probably wouldn’t return. Thankfully she had already invested a small part of herself after last summer’s experiences. After the suffering that I put her through this week, I guess I better pick up some flowers and take her to a nice dinner this weekend.