The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.

We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.

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Pro Vercelli: The Boneyard, Part I

This is a story about an honest, fair-minded, and well-meaning football club, and how they were pushed to the limit by a group of thugs, cheats, and bullies. It’s an old story. It’s a story that happens all over the world—whenever a kid who’s good at computers is forced to eat leaves by a kid who isn’t good at computers; whenever a beloved professional wrestling champion climbs into the center of the ring for a spontaneous awards ceremony only to be taken down by a folding chair from behind. Today, it’s our story. And it’s the story of our quest for vengeance.

But first: however improbable this may sound, none of that has anything to do with Juventus. The prelude to what happened is that we beat them 3-0 thanks to goals from Contini, Caprioli, and Erdem Ak. While we were playing at the Naming Rights, Pisa were shaking up the world by holding Inter to a goalless draw at the Arena Garibaldi. The net result: We moved into first place, taking a one-point lead at the top of the table. Inter only had one game left. And we had a game in hand.

As a result, I figured I could take the risk of fielding a strong team for the Coppa Italia final against Roma. Yes, we were tired—we were smack in the middle of a period of fixture congestion that would cause Alex Ferguson to turn into a black hole—but we’d have two chances to sew up the league after the cup final. It wasn’t so much that I cared about winning the Coppa Italia as that we were playing Roma again in the Champions League final 10 days later, and coming at them strong now would give us a chance to feel them out.

And thus began one of the most brutal games I’ve ever been a part of. I can’t make any firm accusations, because I wasn’t in the Roma locker room before the match. All I can say is that—and remember, we’re playing them again in 10 days for the championship of Europe—six of my players, including five starters, were injured in the game. Sammarco was carried off on a stretcher and is now out for two weeks. Capuano left the match with a bruised thigh and is out for two weeks. Teixeira suffered a hurt ankle and is out for six weeks. Andreas Andersson got a calf strain: three weeks. Hugo pulled a hamstring: three weeks. Riccardo Caprioli also took a knock in the game, but thankfully he didn’t get a lasting injury. The rest of these guys are sidelined for the Champions League final.

And we were already missing Ibrahimovic, Contini, the Ferj, Proietti, and Fábio. I honestly don’t know how I’m going to fill out my roster for the last three games of the season. We’re almost certainly going to be reduced to recalling youth players from loan and starting them in the Champions League final. It could get ugly. I’m serious.

As for the match itself, it was secondary to the field hospital around it, but it still managed to be intensely terrible. We took a 2-0 lead through Andersson and Caprioli, who were both eliminated by Roma tackles soon afterward, but as we started to wear out—because of the injuries, I’d used up all my substitutions by the 50th minute, and it was our third game in five days; Michele Carbone finished with a 47% fitness rating—Roma, astoundingly, started to look better. We held on for dear life, but they got the equalizer in the 92nd minute, and the game went to extra time, where our players wheezed and labored like diplomats asked to carry their own suitcases.

Even still, we made it to penalties. But they beat us in the shootout, 5-4. Zech and Martini were the goats, but considering that their combined fitness rating was around 119%, it was hard to be too furious. I’m saving my fury for Roma. We’ll have a chance at revenge in 10 days, although as the objects of our vengeance have crippled most of the players who would be capable of taking vengeance against them, I’m not sure how we’re going to take it.

Next: The end of the league season. Planning for the Champions League final.

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Pro Vercelli: The Boneyard, Part I

by Brian Phillips · September 25, 2009

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