The sequel to AS Roma’s “sports miracle” — as one member of the Italian media christened the club’s 2013 season — began Tuesday in the unlikeliest of locations: on an American soccer field, more than 4,000 miles from Rome, at a university whose mascot is a giant elephant.
Roma — in Boston for its US Summer Tour, which begins when the Giallorossi play Liverpool at Fenway Park on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. — trained at Tufts University on Tuesday morning, months after infusing renewed vigor into the club by finishing second in Serie A and qualifying for the UEFA Champions League.
“We are convinced, we believe that if we play well, if we play with enthusiasm, if we play as a team, we will have a very interesting season,” manager Rudi Garcia said after the sun-drenched practice. “I already said to my players that this season will be more difficult than the previous one. We want to make our fans proud of this team. They have to see a team that fights for every centimeter.”
Garcia, hired in June 2013, helped the club rebound from its sixth-place league finish in 2012. To begin the manager’s inaugural campaign, Roma ripped off 10 straight wins — outscoring its opponents, 24-1, during the stretch — and didn’t lose until Jan. 5. Its final goal differential was plus-47, and by finishing league runner-up, it qualified for the group stage of the Champions League, Europe’s most prestigious club tournament.
Now, back in the United States for the third straight summer, Roma will start its two-week, four-match preseason friendly excursion with a rematch against Liverpool. The clubs last played at Fenway on July 25, 2012, and Roma won, 2-1.
Garcia said midfield wizard Daniele De Rossi will not play against the Reds because he is not yet fit, but he has included on the roster both new signings and players who powered the club’s strong 2013 season.
Captain Francesco Totti, 37, the club’s all-time leading scorer, plus new signings Ashley Cole and Juan Iturbe, headline Garcia’s selections.
“We strongly rely on experienced players,” the manager said. “Both new players and old ones. We chose to assemble a team with a mix of young and veteran players, which is a big challenge both for me and the technical staff, to nurture these young players.”
“I decided to have a wider squad here in the US because I wanted to have more options,” he added later.
Gervinho, one of the club’s most well-known players, was named to the roster but has yet to join Roma in the United States. The 27-year-old forward from Ivory Coast posted on his Facebook account on Monday that he has “to sort out some personal issues” before soon joining his teammates.
One of Garcia’s promising young projects is Iturbe, a 21-year-old Argentine midfielder who signed with the club last week from Hellas Verona.
“We were looking for a fast winger, [an] attacking player who attacks the width, who scores goals. And he has all these qualities,” Garcia said. “But we should not place too much pressure on Juan Iturbe. He’s only 21 years old. He has a lot of room for improvement, and we have to be patient with him.”
Garcia added that Roma’s main objective is to leave the United States with no significant injuries, and he cautioned fans that the games are only friendlies.
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard announced his retirement from international soccer on Monday, ending a 14-year career in which he scored 21 times in 114 appearances. Manager Brendan Rodgers said it could help Liverpool. “I spent a lot of time talking with Steven on it,” Rodgers said. “Because I know how much it means to him, to captain his country. But Liverpool is everything to him and there’s certainly no doubt by missing international football — that will make him fresher and he’ll be ready to be at his optimum level as often as he possibly can. So I think for us at Liverpool it’s great, and it brings an end on what has been a great career for him.” . . . Rodgers said his team will adjust to the smaller, different-shaped field at Fenway. “When you’re an expansive team like ourselves, you obviously prefer the field to be bigger rather than smaller,” he said. “But for us as a team, we will always make the field as big as we possibly can.” . . . Rodgers said the team’s philosophy — stout defense, good organization, retaining possession as long as possible — moving forward without Luis Suarez will remain unchanged. “The philosophy doesn’t change,” he said. “The personnel might.”