Like their male counterparts, the women of AS Roma have had a bit of a rocky start to the new decade. While the schedule hasn't been quite as harsh to Betty Bavagnoli's bunch as it has Paulo Fonseca's crew, the Giallorosse have had a bit of an up and down start to 2020, kicking off the new year with a rousing victory over Bari, which was followed up by a gut wrenching loss to AC Milan and a last ditch draw against Fiorentina. Roma managed to get back to their winning ways last week, however, defeating Empoli 2-1 in a match that was as muddy as the day is long.
Lindsey Thomas’ 86th minute goal last weekend halted Roma's mini skid, keeping them within shouting distance of second place Fiorentina, whom they trail by four points on the league table.
But none of that matters on Saturday as league play makes way for the Quarterfinals of the 2020 Coppa Italia. Roma, you may recall, made a surprise run to the semifinals of last season's competition before bowing out to the Viola 3-1 on aggregate. It was a bitter end to what would have been a miraculous end to Roma's rookie campaign, but it set the stage for Roma's grander ambitions for the current campaign.
San Marino Academy vs. Roma: February 8th. 14:30 CET/8:30 EST. Stadio Conti, Dogana
While their domestic goals have taken a soft hit over the past few weeks, Roma's quest to capture the 2020 Coppa Italia is off to a rousing start. While it was harder than they imagined—the match went to extra time—the Giallorosse began their cup campaign with a hard fought 2-0 victory over Bari back in mid-November.
I've made no secret of my ambivalence towards the Coppa Italia in the men's game, but considering that Roma's calcio femminile project is still quite young, the sooner the club can start racking up trophies, the better. For the time being, Serie A Femminile is a level financial playing field, so the quality and reputation of your project can very often be the deciding factor for top players. It may not be the trophy they covet most, but winning the Coppa Italia would be a tremendous sign of progress for Roma and could potentially help them close the gap on Juventus, Milan and Fiorentina.
The importance of the Coppa Italia at this nascent stage in Roma's development was front and center in Bavagnoli's pre-match comments:
The Coppa Italia is crucial, we are focused on this competition and want to go as far as we possibly can...We come into the game in good shape, with the right approach. We’ve worked hard on our mentality recently and in the last two games I think there’s been an improvement in that regard.
Following their victory over Bari in the Round of 16, Roma won the honor of facing the San Marino Academy in the Coppa Italia...the Coppa Italia. It's an interesting bit of trivia, but Roma's next opponents play in an entirely different country; one within its very own borders—how Lesotho of them.
San Marino, an enclave micro-state and sovereign republic completely within the borders of Italy, is located in-between the borders of Emilia Romagna and Marche and sits about six miles from the Adriatic coast. It's football team, the San Marino Academy, currently sit third in Serie B, two points behind second place Lazio and four points behind league-leading Napoli.
On paper this looks like a walkover, but Bavagnoli isn't leaving anything to chance:
I don’t really think about favourites. It’s a tough opponent - San Marino are building something impressive, and they are doing well in Serie B. Our girls need to be aware that it won’t be an easy game - they absolutely have to be focused.
The tie will be played out over 180 minutes and we are making sure the players are all ready for it. The players have shown that they are able to cope with changes to the line-up, because all the girls are ready to play.
Just exactly which players Bavagnoli will use is anyone's guess, but at this point it's safe to say Lindsey Thomas will lead the line. While the club is suffering some mixed fortunes in the New Year, the same cannot be said for Thomas, who has started off 2020 on a tear, bagging five goals in four matches.
San Marino are a good story no doubt—minnows advancing in domestic cups always brings extra attention—but over the course of two ties this month, Roma's quality should see them through to the semi-finals where they'll face the winner of Milan and Fiorentina; a shot at revenge and a trip to the finals in one fell swoop.
Following this club offers one a chance to literally track the development of a football club from its very inception through its maturation period and hopefully to an era of dominance.
Winning the Coppa Italia would be an important step in that journey.