HARRISON, NEW JERSEY — From the moment the first FC Barcelona player stepped out onto the training pitch at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, until the time came for the players to leave the field and head into the tunnel over an hour later, the atmosphere was one of joy and emotion, sprinkled with moments of downright craziness.
With over 5,000 fans having plunked down $20 each to watch Barça practicing in the suffocating heat and the outlandish humidity, the squad did not disappoint.
As the players filed out to begin the session, there was a steady stream of cheering, followed by an immediate crescendo when Lionel Messi emerged from the tunnel at midfield.
Some brief calisthenics in the center circle gave way to a series of drills at each end of the pitch. Every time a Barça player approached the stands, his name was chanted in unison.
First year manager Ernesto Valverde appeared to have set up a series of training drills not typically used in a standard session, ones that were designed for maximum fan enjoyment.
Cheer after cheer exploded out of both ends of the stands every time one of the three members of the trident deposited a ball in the net. First came Messi, then came Luis Suárez, then came Neymar. The three, one at a time, along with their teammates, slalomed through a series of obstacles planted into the grass, received a pass at the edge of the area, and fired a one-time shot. Even those that were saved by the keeper drew oohs and ahhs.
A steady rhythm of oohs, ahhs, and cheers brought a rhythmic, pulsating life to the workout. The flow of energy between the players and fans remained a constant throughout.
The final act was a mini game on one half of the field, whose intensity among the players, no doubt fueled by the fans’ reactions, was unexpectedly high.
With the session over, the players headed for the dressing room. One final round of applause then gave way to silence. The Barça show—signed, sealed, and delivered—was over.