It's a shame there are only 12 teams in the Women's Serie A because that means we're already half way through the 2018-2019 season, Roma's first season in the top flight, not to mention their first in existence. Through their first 11 matches, the ladies of Rome have really covered all the bases of the Roma experience: they got trounced by Juventus, they hung seven on Chievo, they've had own goals, crackers and ones that barely trickled over the line, they've had crippling losing streaks and delirium inducing unbeaten runs, and through it all they've forged an identity and developed a chemistry that must leave the men's side teeming with jealousy.
Roma v. Sassuolo: January 6th, 15:00 CET/9:00 EST. Stadio Tre Fontane, Roma.
One thing they haven't had yet, though, is a return fixture in the league. All that changes on Sunday when the fifth place Giallorosse take on fourth place Sassuolo. With only one point separating the two sides, this is a potential table changing match.
Before we discuss Sunday's six pointer, a quick look back at the first fixture.
September 22nd: Sassuolo 3, Roma 2
No matter how the rest of this season unfolds, that late September afternoon will forever stand as testament to the spirit and resolve of Betty Bavagnoli's squad. Cobbled together from a variety of leagues/levels/nations, Roma's landing in Serie A was not a soft one; in a tough away fixture, the Giallorosee were immediately pegged back by an early penalty awarded to Sassuolo, who then doubled their lead thanks to one killer pass and conversion later in the half; 45 minutes into their existence and things were looking bleak. Making matters worse, Martina Piemonte missed an absolute sitter that would have cut the deficit in half.
It would have been perfectly understandable if Roma just buried their head in the sand and blamed all the chaos on their inexperience, but instead they clawed back; winning a penalty of their own through an exhibition of pure skill and athleticism, while Piemonte would redeem herself late in the match with a goal in the 81st minute.
Roma may not have come out on top, but the perseverance and character they showed that afternoon would bear fruit in the coming weeks, and once the chemistry and cohesion caught up with the talent and tactics, Roma became damn near unstoppable.
All of which brings us to...
Sunday's Six-Pointer with Sassuolo
When we last saw the Giallorosse they were squaring off against third place Fiorentina, the final point on the league's trident of power, along side Juventus and AC Milan. While I'm loath to call it a moral victory, Roma played Fiorentina tightly in a scoreless draw and had perhaps the games best opportunity when a late Vanessa Bernauer free kick narrowly missed the top corner. While the result was neutral at best, it was a strong signal of intent from Roma, who are slowly proving they belong in the conversation among the league's top sides.
We've harped on it several times this season, but were it not for that winless start to the season, Roma would already be in that conversation, making the first half of the season (to an extent) a story of what ifs. Under normal circumstances, we'd deride that sort of talk as cowardice, but (again) when talking about a brand new team, those what ifs and almosts are, in a sense, a benchmark; no one knew what to expect from this team, they could have just as easily been the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-26, no wins until their second season) as the Las Vegas Golden Knights (Stanley Cup Finalist in their first year), so moral victories did hold some small shred of merit.
But, given how quickly they turned it around, those excuses no longer hold water; Roma has a chance to accomplish something real, so being close or putting up a good effort will no longer suffice. And now that we're in the second leg of the season, Roma has a chance to not only exact some revenge, but to gain some valuable real estate on the table.
And that all starts Sunday against Sassuolo, over whom Roma holds a slight advantage in goals and points since that first encounter. If their first match was any indication, the key to winning may be who scores first, and in a season of firsts for the club, starting off the second half with a victory may be the first step towards upsetting the league pecking order.