Livin’ la vida Loca: the sweet taste of victory under the Californian sun

Endless beaches, tanned surfers and palm trees, this is what Santa Monica looks like on almost any given Sunday.

I said almost.

For 90 minutes yesterday, Santa Monica looked instead like the steep bleachers of San Siro. If you walked into O’Brien’s Irish Pub and somehow managed to squeeze past the curtain of New York Giants die-hard fans equally intent on cheering for their franchise and keeping their hydration high, you would find a raucous brigade of Bianconeri tucked in the back patio, glued to a TV screen broadcasting the now-familiar voice of Matteo Bonetti.

It’s Juve vs. A.C. Milan and nothing else in this troubled world matters.

At first glance, all you could see would be the black & white jerseys, some recent some – let’s say – a little more ‘vintage’, just like their owners.

But if you stared at it long enough, you would start to understand what makes JOFC Hollywood special. For a team whose identity lies in two contrasting colors, JOFC Hollywood proudly represents a beautiful blend of human experiences. Your ears would readily pick up a resounding Sicilian accent followed by west-coast slang, mixed in with a wide repertoire of Venetian ‘expressions of discontent’ and Spanish cheers, all working in unison following the ebbs and flows of the match. How can a soccer team based 6,000 miles away bring this wild bunch together on such a sunny Sunday morning? It is simple: Juventus is our family.

It is the tying thread of our lives, it is what bonds together the son of a Calabro-Canadian immigrant and an American middle schooler who grew up listening to his dad’s stories of Vialli, Del Piero and Zidane.

Juventus connects us all, it reminds us of who we are and how we got here. Much like in a secular Sunday ritual, we come together to celebrate our passion, dust off long-forgotten memories and push our team over the hump.

 The match is about to start and the priority is ever so clear: beat A.C. Milan.

It has been a rather excruciating couple of years for Juventus fans, with the team battling on- and off-the-field enemies, fighting for its own survival and often falling short of its goals. But this is not just like any other game: it is the longest-running rivalry in Serie A, dating back to 1901. The game has not even started yet and we are already reminiscing about that phenomenal display of strength by Lippi’s Juve at San Siro in 1997. “Do you guys remember Vieri schooling Baresi over and over again?”. As if this rivalry needed more spice, Timothy Weah is in the lineup, facing the team for which his dad George scored 46 goals in 114 games, and for the first time in the history of Serie A four American players will start, Weah and McKennie on our side vs. Pulisic and Musah for the Rossoneri. Juve has won only 2 of the last 10 matchups against A.C. Milan and the current Serie A standing makes this a must-win situation: right before kickoff, I let everybody know that my prediction in the official JOFC league challenge calls for Locatelli to score. I let you imagine how that was received.

            The first half is underway and our eyes bounce between the TV screen and our WhatsApp group chat where we share feelings and hopes with the JOFC Hollywood members who could not make it to the watch party. Our strategy seems clear: sit back and strike on the counter. Are we trying to re-enact that surgical Del Piero-Thuram ‘contropiede’ at the Delle Alpi in 2002? Wait, how was that twenty-one years ago? Other than a superb save by Szczesny on a brilliant strike by Giroud, the first half offers little room for excitement until Moise Kean kindly sends Malick Thiaw back to the locker room. Juve is now up one man with more than 50 minutes to play: this – we all agree – is our chance to win the game. After more than 60 minutes, however, Juve has yet to record its first shot on goal. Many – myself included – start to voice their disappointment as Juve fails to seriously test Mirante (yes, that same Mirante who was our backup keeper in Serie B). Our attitude looks far too conservative when Manuel Locatelli suddenly decides it’s time for him to leave his mark on this rivalry again. Exactly seven years to the day later, Loca scores another banger of a match-winner, this time wearing his favorite team’s colors. As the patio explodes in a roar of joy, I do not waste the opportunity to remind everyone that, just like with Gatti’s goal in the last derby, I was right and that it is absolutely not a matter of sheer luck. Juve now needs fresh legs in the back trio to fend off the forthcoming A.C. Milan counteroffensive. With Danilo out for injury, it is time for the Dutch wunderkind to make his Serie A debut. Wearing his #13 jersey, Dean Huijsen takes the stage at San Siro in the 78th minute and he does not even remotely look like an 18-year-old debutant: in a matter of minutes, he cuts off a deep pass to Leão with impeccable style and sends Kalulu tumbling down the foul line after a rugged challenge. Funny story about Dean: his parents sat among us during Juve’s pre-season training sessions at the Loyola Marymount University facility just a few months ago. We like to think there is a little bit of us in this moment!

The game clock is getting close to the 90th minute, and Juve cannot seem to find the second goal to seal the game. Not a big problem for this fanbase: we have been here before, and we have scars to prove it. It’s now extra time, an enraged Allegri just threw his jacket towards the bench, our eyes remain glued to the TV screen. We are counting down the minutes, two more miraculous saves by Mirante and the final whistle blows.

Oh, the sweet taste of victory! We can all finally exhale and celebrate. A round of hugs and high-fives, the mandatory group picture with the JOFC Hollywood banner and off we go, knowing full well that we will all be back next week because Sundays are for family.

Edoardo Mazza – JOFC Hollywood