May 25, 2005. It was a day all soccer fans had circled on their calendars. Liverpool, coming off a dramatic 1-0 aggregate success against Chelsea in the semifinals, were looking to add a fifth UEFA Champions League title to its already trophy-laden history against Italian giants AC Milan, who were led by Ukrainian superstar Andriy Shevchenko and Brazilian youngster Kaka.
Italian defender Paolo Maldini scored in the first minute to give Milan an early 1-0 advantage, and two goals in five minutes from Hernan Crespo handed Milan a 3-0 lead at halftime.
Game over, right? Wrong. Liverpool made one of the most incredible comebacks in European soccer history.
Three goals in six minutes from Steven Gerrard, substitute Vladimir Smicer and current Real Madrid star Xabi Alonso tied the game, and Milan was forced to regroup. After the two 15-minute extra periods, the game was still tied at three and penalty kicks were on the horizon.
Liverpool held a 3-2 advantage, and all the pressure was on Shevchenko’s shoulders. If he missed the fifth penalty, the trophy would be going to Liverpool. Shevchenko hit the ball right down the middle, and Liverpool goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek got a hand on the ball, which gave manager Rafa Benitez and Liverpool the Champions League trophy in one of the most thrilling Champions League finals ever.
When it comes to memories involving Liverpool, Ohio women’s soccer head coach Aaron Rodgers says that the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul is one of his favorites. Rodgers also took the time to talk about his favorite player, his expectations for the Reds this season and, of course, his thoughts on Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez.
Speakeasy: Why do you support Liverpool FC?
Aaron Rodgers: I am a goalkeeper, and when I was between 12 and 13, I started to follow European soccer more closely. The one player I really liked was Bruce Grobbelaar, who was a goalkeeper for Liverpool. He was a character. He was really outgoing and energetic. I wanted to play like him.
Speakeasy: Liverpool is a club with a lot of history. What is your favorite memory?
AR: I was able to go to Anfield and sit at the Kop end of the stadium. On a negative note, I remember Liverpool losing the title to Arsenal on the last day of the season in the early 90s. They have a lot going for them, but they haven’t been able to get over the hump.
Speakeasy: What was your experience like at Anfield?
AR: I have been really fortunate enough to go to grounds in Europe and South America. The stadium (Anfield) is next to houses, and when I got out of the taxi, the cab driver told me to go to the corner and turn right. I went all the way to the corner, turned right, and when I saw the Shankly Gates, I had a tear come out of my eye. I got to sit with the true fans of Liverpool and hold the scarf in the air. They were playing in a European competition that night.
Speakeasy: Who is your favorite Liverpool player?
AR: I have a few. Steven Gerrard is a fantastic player for Liverpool. Luis Suarez has been a great player for us, but he has had his on the field and off the field problems. I really liked Fernando Torres, as well. Even though Suarez and Torres are forwards, their thirst for the game is fantastic. They would go back and defend, and they never stopped running. (Philippe) Coutinho has been phenomenal for Liverpool, too. Obviously, I have to mention Grobbelaar, as well.
Speakeasy: Finish this sentence: Liverpool’s greatest rival is…?
AR: It has to be Manchester United. They have been dominant in the league in recent years, and they are close to Liverpool in number of Champions League titles. You can also make an argument for Everton because the grounds are very close to each other.
Speakeasy: Pretend you are Liverpool owner John Henry. Money is no issue. If you could sign any one player to Liverpool, who would it be?
AR: I would sign a defender, probably a center-back. We have a good attacking core with Daniel Sturridge, Suarez, Gerrard and Coutinho. Kolo Toure has been a great pickup, but I would sign David Luiz (Chelsea center-back). He can defend well, and he is good with the ball at his feet. If I was thinking attacking options, I would take Lionel Messi over Cristiano Ronaldo. But we need a center-back and I would take Luiz. I think it would be great to see Messi play with Suarez and Gerrard.
Speakeasy: Brendan Rodgers is in his second season as Liverpool boss. Do you think he can lead the club in the direction they want to go?
AR: If I am going by evidence of earlier results, then I think he is doing a great job. He has a great mentality to the game, and he has done a lot of work in Spain. When I show my team different tactical things, we look at the way Liverpool plays. I also like to show the team the way Barcelona plays and the way Bayern Munich sets up because Bayern Munich is now managed by former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola.
Speakeasy: The only purchase that really made an impact at Liverpool during the Kenny Dalglish era was Luis Suarez. Suarez has been in the news for good and for bad. What are your thoughts on the controversial Uruguayan?
AR: He has been phenomenal for Liverpool. Despite his on-field performance, I go back and forth deciding if I want the club to sell him. He has a lot of baggage, but outside of Messi and Ronaldo, he may be the best attacking player in the world. His countryman (Edinson) Cavani just moved to Paris Saint-Germain, but I think he offers so much more. He can shoot from distance, dribble, create and bring others into the game. If he can eliminate his discipline issues, he can be a great strike partner for Sturridge.
Speakeasy: Liverpool is off to a great start with six points from its opening two matches. What are your expectations for the Reds this season?
AR: We have to get in the top 4. If we don’t, Suarez will definitely leave the club. It is a better start than last season when we lost 3-0 to West Brom. Two 1-0 wins and six points from the first two games is fantastic.
Speakeasy: Besides being a Liverpool fan, you are also a fan of the U.S. men’s national team. As you know, the U.S. has never won the World Cup. But the last time Liverpool won the Premier League title was 1990. Would you rather see the United States win the World Cup or Liverpool win the Premier League?
AR: I would love for both to happen, but I would say the U.S. winning the World Cup. Liverpool has a greater chance at winning the Premier League than the U.S. does winning the World Cup. But being an American and being an American who loves soccer, it would be fantastic if the U.S. won the World Cup.