About nine months ago — although Michael Bradley insists it feels much more recent — the United States men’s national team called Sporting Park home for one night in a World Cup qualifying match. Bradley played all 90 minutes in a 3-1 victory against Guatemala.
He recalled those minutes on several occasions this week, noting his awe of the soccer-specific stadium, its atmosphere and the crowd’s energy in Kansas City.
So before he returned as a visitor Wednesday — playing for Italian club AS Roma against the MLS All-Stars — Bradley said he advised his teammates to expect the same. They played in front of a Sporting Park record crowd of 21,175 fans Wednesday.
“Without a doubt, this is a special place to play,” Bradley said. “The stadium is beautiful. It’s a real soccer stadium. The fans are close to the field. People in Kansas City come out to support their team (and) their national team. I think in all ways it’s one of the best places to play in the United States.”
Of course, large crowds are nothing new to Roma. The club plays in Stadio Olimpico, which has a capacity of nearly 71,000. Just a tad larger than Sporting Park.
Nevertheless, Sporting Kansas City’s home made an impression with the visitors Wednesday night during Roma’s 3-1 victory.
“If you see what time the supporters were here, it was full (early),” said Roma midfielder Kevin Strootman, who scored the game’s first goal in the fourth minute. “Then they keep singing (when they were) behind 3-0 and keep talking. It was very special.
“We didn’t see much of the city, only the stadium, but it was very good to be here.”
Indeed, Roma viewed the trip much less as a vacation and much more of a necessary preparation for its 2013-14 season.
A club with wonderful tradition in the Serie A league has faltered the last few seasons. It finished in sixth place last year and failed to qualify for European competition for the second straight year.
That resulted in some changes for Roma, most notably a new coach, Rudi Garcia, who made his first trip to the United States for Wednesday’s game.
“It was great infrastructure, a great stadium, and the atmosphere was very good today,” Garcia said. “For us, it was important. It was like a league game for us.”
Garcia plans to implement an attacking style, which was on display against the MLS All-Stars. Roma dominated on the way to its two-goal victory, controlling the bulk of the possession in the midfield.
“Every one of us is aware the last few years haven’t been good enough,” Bradley said. “There’s a real desire and real motivation to put things right. As we start preseason with a new coach and some new players, there’s a real commitment every day stepping onto the field.
“For us, this was a really good chance against a good team in a great environment to move ourselves forward.”