Friday, July 22, 08:02 a.m.
The big day is here and I’m up early — way earlier than I would have liked, but I can’t sleep in despite how tired I am. No matter how early you try to go to bed in Vegas it feels impossible to do so until at least one in the morning.
There is always one more casino to go to, one more sight to see, one more shop to marvel at the outrageous prices they try to charge for what are objectively ugly looking sneakers, no matter which designer puts their name on them.
No matter how tired I am, this day is the whole reason we are here, so I wake up, get in the shower and put on to what at this point is my most professional outfit yet — a lightweight button down shirt and denim shorts because it is still over 110 degrees and there is zero percent chance I’m wearing pants.
The girlfriend wakes up an hour or so later and we get ready to hit one more unique landmark of this city before the game. One of The Strip’s famous gorge-fest known as a buffets.
Friday, July 22, 11:02 a.m.
At this point, we have pretty much visited every single worthwhile hotel in Las Vegas, with the exception of the southern most ones — Excalibur, Luxor and Mandalay Bay. We did this on purpose because they are the closest ones to Allegiant Stadium, and the Mandalay Bay specifically is within walking distance to the place where I was making my grand debut as credentialed media.
The light research I did pointed us to the Excalibur’s buffet as one of the more affordable ones, and after our shopping spree of the previous day it seems wise to try and save anywhere we can. Buffets, by definition, are not the fanciest of offerings, and as soon as we get into the medieval-themed restaurant I’m immediately transported back to my college cafeteria, up to and including the hard plastic cups that at least one in three have a crack in them. But this isn’t about fancy, it’s about excess, it’s about getting your 30 bucks worth of food, no matter the consequences. It’s a place that proudly boasts about the lack of portion control in it.
Salmon, shrimp, steak, brisket. It all goes into my plate to start. Some gumbo to follow up? Don’t mind if I do. Tortellini with Italian sausage, beef stir fry, a few shrimp nigiris. Mac and cheese, mushroom pizza, some bacon strips with an omelette. I’m sure my calorie counter is at double of what it should be for the day, but I still have a dessert island to hit.
Lemon key pie, freshly made crepes, beignets, Ricotta cheese puffs with strawberries. None of it is the best tasting food I’ve ever had, but everything is fine and the name of the game is quantity not quality. Plus, we’re here already, might as well.
(99% of the poor decisions made in Vegas can be boiled down to that we’re here already mentality.)
Friday, July 22, 5:02 p.m.
In the email sent to the press corps, we are advised that we could start claiming our press badges at 5 p.m. at the ticket booth in the stadium, so head blog honcho Danny Penza and myself agree to meet exactly at 5 so we can be the first to get our badges.
The girlfriend bids us farewell in the walkway of the Mandalay Bay hotel that connects to the stadium, and as we walk to the giant black structure it starts to become quickly apparent that even the most optimistic read in terms of attending fans has Bianconeri faithful outnumbered by 20 to 1. This is, for all intents and purposes, a home game for Chivas.
We already figured that Chivas Guadalajara was going to have more fans at the stadium, but waiting in line to get our badges it becomes a rare occurrence to see a Juve kit in the sea of red and white stripes of the followers of the Mexican club.
(An argument could be made that Juve kits were placing third in the popularity rankings at Allegiant Stadium as we saw a lot of Mexican national team kits as well.)
At last, we get to the booth where we are handed our badges. Made out of shiny plastic, they are our key to the hallowed access we had been looking forward to. A signal to the word that we are not here just as fans, but as professionals, it feels surreal. But thankfully the picture in the badge quickly brings me back down to earth.
The resemblance is uncanny.
Bad picture or not, that piece of black plastic gets us into the stadium before everyone else and up into the 400 level of the stadium where the press box is located. The first thing that is apparent about this place is how new and shiny everything looks and feels — considering the stadium opened in 2020, this tracks — the second is the sheer scale of it. It’s a 65,000-seater and from high up in the press box it looks every bit of it. The pictures won’t ever do it justice, but the LED screens are a behemoth of light behind the goals and the acoustics are fantastic. At its peak, there are 35,000 fans, but it sounded like a whole lot more. There’s no way to deny it, this is a top of the line place to watch a game.
Before the game starts, I go downstairs to have a look around the concourse and get a feel for the mood of the crowd. If I had to sum it all up into three words I’d go for: drunk, happy and Mexican. I’d never attended a friendly match before and definitely not one in the U.S., but people seem more interested in having a good time than whatever might actually happen in the proceedings of the match. It feels like the right attitude to have if I’m being quite honest.
My first real gripe comes when I stumble upon the merch tent for the game. I was just begging Juventus to take my money, all they had to do was to have something, anything that was branded with the Las Vegas game and I would have just given them my credit card and told them to charge whatever they felt was fair. Alas, they didn’t. The two unveiled jerseys were there, as well as a black Adidas t-shrit with the Juve logo and another Adidas scarf. Pretty much the same thing you’d find if you went to any well stocked sporting goods store.
Disappointed in you, Juventus. It’s hard to change the tide for your U.S.-based fandom if you don’t offer cool merch. That’s branding 101.
(The only event adjacent thing was a commemorative white t-shirt with the logos of all the participating clubs retailing for $40. And look, I’ve thrown a lot of dumb money around this trip, but that felt like crossing a line.)
Friday, July 22, 8:02 p.m.
After walking the entirety of the stadium I rejoined Danny in the press box and settled down to watch the thing that we as journalists were here for — Juve’s first preseason match and the first time I’ve ever seen this team live. I’m sure Max Allegri was aware of this and as a personal courtesy to us the Juve lineup trotted out in the first half was as close as you could expect to a full-strength squad.
I’ve watched a lot of football, but as it pertains to live football my experience is mostly Mexican league matchups, one MLS game and one Swiss league game. As much as they were all fun experiences, I wouldn’t call any of them really top level with elite ability on display. Just as a point of reference, the fact that Juventus was playing a team I’m relatively familiar with in Chivas helped a lot to make the difference between the level of football I’m accustomed to and what the top footballers in the world actually do.
Juve just seemed faster, more in control, more skilled. They were processing things at a different level. And it wasn’t just a physical difference — though that played a part — but it was all in the subtle, small moments. When Angel Di Maria faced off against a defender he wasn't throwing impossibly skilled, flashy moves, but he was getting by with a subtle flick here a quick fake there and in the millisecond it took the defender to react he had already wiggled enough room to get by.
Paul Pogba seemed to magnetically find open spaces in the field with tremendous ease, Manuel Locatelli was thinking two or three passes ahead of everyone else. Even a youngster like Nicolo Fagioli was showing flashes of skill and vision that nobody on the Mexican side could hope to equate. I understand a friendly in July is not the peak representation of football but to my untrained eye it was one of the best displays I’ve ever seen live.
Juventus ends up winning the match fairly comfortably by a 2-0 scoreline that feels like it could have been a lot more. But the game is the thing that least matters to me at the moment — just the experience of being there was more than enough to make the whole thing worth it. It really is a bizarre experience to watch the people you have seen so many times through a television or a phone screen be there in the flesh, not as images, but as real people. However, the night was far from over yet, as we headed down to the mixed zone.
Friday, July 22, 10:15 p.m.
We are ushered into an empty press room in which a small stage is set up for the players and coaches that will do post game questions. If seeing the Juve players from a distance in a field was a trippy experience I cannot tell you how weird it was that we were going to actually interact with them face to face.
Shortly thereafter, however, we are told that Juventus will not actually take the stage and will only answer questions from the mixed zone. AKA, that thin sliver of time and space in between players going from the locker room to their buses. It immediately becomes less likely we get to ask a question as the press room was sparsely attended and you’d assume there was going to be an interpreter for the questions being asked in English.
In the mixed zone, it’s a much more hurried affair, it’s all the media piling on against metal barriers and trying to get the attention of players and coaches who mostly just put on headphones and walk by without really giving anyone the time of day. The language barrier seemed to be an issue as well as they were no interpreters to be seen and it was mostly about whether you could get your question across in a language that the player or coach could understand.
The first one to do so is Pogba, who hurries past us without giving anyone an opening to ask anything. Then follows Weston McKennie and Manuel Locatelli, both with firmly placed AirPods and the look of someone who wants nothing more than to get to their hotel room.
(Considering they flew in to Vegas late on Thursday, trained that very same day and played a game not 24 hours later, I can’t blame them for being tired, to be perfectly honest.)
As we all tried to figure out what the mixed zone etiquette was going to be, a PR person from Juventus told us that we were going to get Max Allegri and Juan Cuadrado, but that was it. They were also going to make Angel Di Maria and Marco Da Graca available — hilariously the man of the match because he scored the opener — but only to Juventus TV and exclusively in Italian, which meant we were out of luck.
I wanted to ask a question. That felt to me like the ultimate achievement available to me on this trip. It felt a whole lot like journalist cosplay, but it’s very likely this was going to be the only opportunity I would get to do something like this so I was going to at least try, I owed myself that.
Cuadrado — the man promised to us as being available — showed up and started answering questions in Italian at the initial part of the mixed zone. While he was doing that, I started to position myself as close as possible to the barrier at the other end of the press area with all the Spanish-speaking networks. With a couple quick moves I lodged myself firmly in between two cameraman and waited for my chance as Cuadrado answered questions in Italian for Juventus TV.
As the Colombian international got to our area, the reporter for TUDN pounced first. It made sense, TUDN is one of the largest Latin American sports networks, they had branded polos and the whole shebang. After TUDN got their questions in, a local Spanish-speaking station elbowed themselves in just enough to get Cuadrado’s attention and got a couple questions in about what it was like to play a Mexican team and how it compared to what he was used to.
When they were done, the PR person hurriedly announced that they were going to allow just one more question and before anyone else could jump in, I put on my most serious journalist voice on to get just enough of Cuadrado’s attention and find my opening.
“Hola, Juan! Sergio Romero de SB Nation, una pregunta?”
He turned to face me and waited for my question as the rest of the press surrounding us got quiet and pointed the cameras to catch whatever Cuadrado was about to say. Now, I didn’t really expect to find myself in this position. The whole concept of asking a question sounded great in my head but my plan did not go as far as figuring out exactly what I wanted to ask. I was the proverbial dog chasing a car and not knowing what to do once he catches up with it.
With the pressure on, I went into reflex mode and asked what I had asked many times before in assorted Grab Bags or episodes of The Old Lady Speaks Podcast. I’m paraphrasing here a bit but it essentially amounted to:
“Hey, you used to be a winger and now you mostly play as a fullback and what’s up with that? You comfortable with that switch?”
It wasn’t the most biting question ever asked at a mixed zone, but it was perfectly average. Which led to a perfectly average response from Cuadrado about being more and more comfortable at the position and being willing to do anything to help the team and how he feels a lot better now playing there than under Maurizio Sarri and Andrea Pirlo because he’s being doing it more and more.
And again, much like the result of the game, whatever the answer was didn’t really matter as much as just the fact I got to ask it. I was getting a call up to the big leagues, I was just happy to be there and even happier to get an at-bat. Anything after that was gravy.
Saturday, July 23, 03:17 a.m.
Me and the girlfriend are heading back to our hotel in an Uber.
After the game, the BWRAO crew — joined by old friend Hunter Sharpless — partook in post-game drinks that went perhaps a little later than everyone was expecting them to. A merry time was had by all and maybe — definitely — because of that I hadn’t really come to grips with all that just had happened.
By some weird alchemy of luck, timing, work and maybe just a smidge of talent, I had just achieved something that I never thought of as possible. Something that I would have considered the absolute best-case scenario when I first started writing for this blog four years ago had not only happened, but felt like the first step towards greater things and more chances and more opportunities down the line.
Las Vegas is a city built for taking long shots and I just feel thankful that the longest of shots for your boy paid off. Thanks for following and thanks for reading, it would not have been possible without this space.
See you next week.