LANDOVER, Md. — It may have been mere coincidence that as FC Barcelona left its hotel in Washington D.C. at rush hour Tuesday afternoon, the motorcade escorting the team to FedExField in Landover, Maryland was immediately brought to a standstill.
Biut it wasn't all bad news, because when the police caravan—crawling through the gridlocked streets adejacent to the National Mall—turned onto Constitution Avenue, the players were treated to slow-motion views of the White House and the Washington Monument. And upon finally leaving behind the traffic jams of downtown D.C., they caught a glimpse of the emblematic Capitol dome as well.
But if Lionel Messi and the rest of his Blaugrana cohorts thought they had left that traffic behind them, they were wrong. It picked up again just outside FedExField, where throngs of supporters lined up along the road as scores of cars continued to arrive in anticipation of Tuesday’s open training session.
Barça plays Manchester United here on Wednesday night, but the enormous reception the team received Tuesday was bulletproof evidence the fans were not inclined to wait.
Before the session began, Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano appeared before the media in the press room. Once it was over, and with the weather in the DC metro area a perfect 72 degrees and partly cloudy, the players filed out onto the field one by one. Each new face evoked a loud cheer. Messi got the biggest one of all, as he strode out next to Luis Suárez.
When the training session began, the thousands on hand almost all stood with their arms stretched out above their heads, as they snapped away with their cell phones.
A seven-a-side game drew the biggest gasps, as Messi took over, dribbling around teammates and scoring the first goal. Luis Suárez got in on the action and, at one point, scored three in a row.
Finally, after an hour of with the squad sitting down on the turf near midfield, around 7.30pm, Neymar went one-on-one with goalkeeper Adrià Ortolá in a series of penalty kicks set up purely for the enjoyment of the crowd.
Neymar went left. Then right. Then high. Then a Panenka. Goal after goal after goal. Ortolá was befuddled. The crowd of 6,673 roared. It was a mere preview of the excitement that is to be expected on Wednesday night. Same time. Same place.