Saturday was a very busy day of high-profile soccer in the Baltimore/Washington area. Normally in this space, I rate how D.C. United's players performed, but with so many players getting into Saturday's 1-1 draw against Paris Saint-Germain, no one really had the chance to play extended minutes. Rather, I'd like to take the time to point out the players who stood out above the rest in what was my biggest -- and best -- experience of international club soccer.
I started out in Baltimore for the friendly match between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, stopping by supporters' bars on both sides. A Liverpool bar actually had a side street shut down to accommodate everyone (and the kegs). Meanwhile, the Spurs bar I was going to stop at emptied out as I was approaching. The D.C. Spurs contingent started to parade around Baltimore singing and chanting together. It was quite the experience, and really set the tone for the atmosphere of the game.
The game itself was tactically impressive on both sides but the crowd was left wanting a goal that was never scored. Both teams struggled in the final third throughout the game, but each had their fair share of chances.
What Stood Out
Managers Brendan Rodgers (Liverpool) and Andre Villas-Boas (Tottenham Hotspur)
Both managers stuck to what they know best, a possession based attack with short passes that are designed to break down a defense. Both managers stick to a 4-3-3 formation, but Villas-Boas has admitted he thinks a 4-2-3-1 will work better with his current squad. They both realize what their respective teams' strengths are, and they play them to them. Both Rodgers and Villas-Boas were impressive in the media session after the game, coming off as affable, but not aloof and showed how world-class managers should perform with the media.
Both sides played younger players who looked seasoned well beyond their years. Andros Townsend, Harry Kane, Kyle Naughton and Gylfi Sigurdsson all looked very impressive playing alongside their more experienced counterparts for Tottenham Hostpur. Not to be outdone, the Liverpool quartet of Adam Morgan, Jonjo Shelvey, Nathan Eccleston and Jon Flanagan all performed well.
Both sides brought and played their stars. Yes, some were missing on both sides, but the predominantly American audience got to see what they paid for: Gareth Bale and Steven Gerrard. Did they play the entire game? No, but they did put on a show.
After the media sessions ended in Baltimore, it was a quick trip down 95 South to RFK Stadium to get ready for Paris Saint-Germain and D.C. United.
Thanks to a little traffic and a bite to eat, I didn't have enough time to go check out where PSG fans were pre-gaming. Lot 8 was full of United supporters, as always. It is also right next to the media lot, so its always easy to get a feel for the crowd.
The press box was buzzing as soon as I got up, thanks to the news that Zlatan Ibrahimovic would be starting for PSG. That buzz would only be outdone by the Swede's third-minute goal, which was phenomenal.
What Stood Out:
Not just his play, but his stature -- he is 6'5 after all. He walked out Saturday next to Marco Verratti (who is 5'5) and you would have thought he came out with one of the armies of kids who accompany the players during the introductions. Then, Ibrahimovic scored in the third minute and for the rest of his time in the game looked like he wasn't even trying. But he was still looking brilliant.
The Resilience of D.C. United
United easily could have crumbled or sat back in a defensive shell after the early goal, but instead turned up the pressure and took the game to Paris Saint-Germain before the first-half weather delay. Even after the delay, United looked like the more determined team. They eventually got their equalizer after Dwayne De Rosario converted a penalty, and kept pushing for a winner.
The French Media
While the British media earlier in the day welcomed their American contemporaries, the French were the exact opposite. It got off to a poor start with a few journalists sitting and ignoring the National Anthem, and making matters worse by talking during it. A few also brought their girlfriends with them to the game, and a group of them were standing during the match and blocking my view, as well as that of a few others. It got to the point where they were asked by United personnel to sit down or leave. It didn't help that a few were tweeting during the game about the ridiculousness of the lightning delay. Sorry about safety? Finally, and probably most egregiously, there was the cheering in the press box. Everyone was kind of speechless after the Ibrahimovic goal, but every time PSG had something positive happen you could hear a few cheers from the French area of the press box.
Overall, both games were quite entertaining and seeing all the big names from both games up close was impressive. Seeing United hold their own against PSG was probably the highlight of the day. The biggest disappointment had to the be the crowd at RFK. Under 15,000 to see one of the top teams in the world? Sure, the other game in Baltimore was the same day, but I figured a crowd of around 20,000 would be expected.