Welcome back, Michael Bradley

Lone American on Fenway Park field leads Roma past Liverpool

Updated: July 26, 2012, 2:06 AM ET
By Brian O'Connell | Special to

BOSTON -- It stood to reason that the only American on the field during Wednesday's Liverpool-Roma match took center stage at one of America's most beloved ballparks.

Sixty-three minutes into the international friendly at Fenway Park, Roma midfielder Michael Bradley snapped a scoreless tie with a keen strike that slipped inside the far post to jump-start a 2-1 win over John Henry's Liverpool before a crowd of 37,169.

"I think he played a good game," Roma coach Zdenek Zeman said via an interpreter. "He's a player who works hard. He did well and he kept his tempo very high."

[+] EnlargeMichael Bradley
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesRoma's Michael Bradley, the only American on the field, did not disappoint the Fenway crowd.

High tempo has been the name of Bradley's game since he broke into professional soccer at age 16. And he's used that energy to steer him into a spot on the U.S. men's national team, for which he's been one of the most productive players.

But even if the American hadn't delivered on the makeshift soccer field Wednesday night, there was plenty of energy to go around the historic ballpark.

Upon first glance, it might have been jarring to see an expanse of grass encroaching upon the areas where the basepaths and pitcher's mound usually reside. Or to watch a soccer ball sail in front of the Green Monster, for that matter.

Yet, once the crowd settled into the seats and embraced the spectacle of soccer at Fenway, it wasn't long before an entertaining game unfolded.

In the eighth minute, Roma's Nicolas Lopez broke into the box and went in alone on Liverpool keeper Peter Gulacsi, who smothered the first dangerous chance of the evening.

Much to the delight of the crowd, both teams employed a wide-open style of play. And why not? With Wednesday's friendly essentially a preseason game for both clubs, it was a classic low-risk, high-reward event.

"Our pressing from the front was very, very good," Liverpool coach Brendan Rodgers said. "It puts us well on the road to getting prepared for the beginning of the [English Premier League] season."

Although the first half ended scoreless, the promise of goals awaited in the second frame. It was just a matter of time and opportunities. And the opportunities would most certainly come.

Bradley's 63rd-minute goal arrived after Erik Manuel Lamela exploited a breach in the Liverpool defense and went forward before sending it to the American midfielder, whose first goal in a Roma uniform elicited a leap in the direction of the Roma fans gathered along the third-base line.

"He's a fighter," Roma midfielder Alessandro Florenzi said through an interpreter. "He puts his best effort [out there on the field], and everything he does is very skilled."

Although the Liverpool crowd might have scoffed at Bradley's opening salvo, it wasn't long before the jeers slowly gave way to chants of "U-S-A" among a large contingent of the Fenway faithful.

Florenzi followed Bradley's lead shortly thereafter when he pounded home a Lamela rebound in the 69th minute, sending the Roma fans to their feet for the second time in six minutes.

"Scoring always gives you great excitement," Florenzi said. "It's always very nice. But doing it tonight in front of this crowd, whom I'd like to thank on behalf of all the team. It was very special to me."

Despite the two-goal deficit, Liverpool wouldn't go down without a fight. Ten minutes from full time, Daniel Pacheco centered it for Charlie Adam, who sent the Liverpool supporters stationed in the center-field bleachers into a frenzy when he slotted Pacheco's pass through to cut the lead in half.

"The goal we scored was excellent," Rodgers said. "Obviously, we'll improve in terms of our defending [given] the couple of goals. But overall there were a lot of positives to take from the game."

Even though Liverpool fell a goal short of leveling it, Rodgers couldn't help but take a step back and reflect on the rare experience of playing soccer at Fenway Park, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.

"I said to the players before the game," Rodgers said. "When you're 50 years old, you'll be able to tell your grandkids and [family] that you actually played [soccer] at Fenway Park. And that's something that will stay with them."

And given the feverish tempo of the Fenway crowd Wednesday, the players won't be the only ones with memories they'll take with them long after the park's iconic light towers go dark.



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