The sense of a vibrant, youthful new era being ushered in at Anfield was tangible as Brendan Rodgers’ began his Liverpool managerial career with a 1-1 draw in Toronto.
While more established names such as Alberto Aquilani, Charlie Adam and Joe
Cole toiled in Canada’s aptly named Rogers Centre, the Academy talent which
Teenager Raheem Sterling created the 69th minute equaliser for 18-year-old striker Adam Morgan to ensure Rodgers did not kick-off with a discouraging defeat.
Rodgers’ otherwise low key opening fixture was not only elevated by the encouraging performances of the club’s youngsters but the return from injury of Brazilian midfielder Lucas.
Lucas appeared for the final 16 minutes, ending seven months of rehabilitation after a cruciate injury.
Liverpool earlier trailed to Quincy Amarikwa’s 59th-minute goal, after rookie goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi pushed aside a shot from distance from Sergio Camargo, but Sterling’s skills provided some much-needed penetration on the left wing.
Rodgers has been trying to reduce expectations on his 17-year-old winger – admitting he may go on loan – but the youngster looked determined to prove he can have an immediate impact on Liverpool’s season.
Rodgers marked his arrival in Boston earlier in the week by touching the left foot of the John Harvard statue, a gesture said to bring good luck.
As he assessed his skeleton squad, he was under no illusion he’ll need all the fortune he can muster to negotiate a tricky opening to his Anfield career.
The most accomplished members of his playing pool – including captain Steven Gerrard – will arrive in the United States on Monday, but it remains to be seen if the Euro 2012 contingent will be fit and available in time for Rodgers’ first competitive game, the Europa League qualifier on Aug 2. Luis Suarez will still be at the Olympics.
Liverpool then face Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal in their first five league games. Not even the mountain stages of the Tour de France could offer a more demanding start.
Rodgers is balancing astute man-management, welcoming the youngsters at his disposal, while casually issuing reminders of the necessity to add new faces.
In his early weeks, Rodgers’ has effectively overseen a reserve and youth squad with a splattering of more experienced faces. These made up both line-ups against Toronto (the entire team was altered in the second half), with all those on show having something to prove, albeit in different ways.
For Aquilani and Cole there was the need to show they can revive their Liverpool career. For Adam, the motivation is avoiding being a makeweight in any deals that may bring others to the club. None of the trio were particularly impressive during their 45 minute appearances.
Instead, it was Sterling, 16-year-old Jordan Ibe and Spanish starlet Suso who sought to demonstrate why they’re considered the next generation of Liverpool stars.
It would be unwise to expect too much, too soon, although their performances will do nothing to dampen enthusiasm for what they might become. Ibe, who played for the first half, displayed power, pace and confidence in his right wing role.
The instruction to retain possession was obvious, but penetration was lacking in the absence of experienced firepower. The first shot on target was courtesy of Aquilani on 44 minutes, firing tamely at Toronto keeper Freddy Hall.
It was a familiar pattern in the second half, despite Sterling and Suso catching the eye, but Liverpool fell behind just before the hour and continued to struggle creating openings.
Then Sterling displayed his potential with a mazy dribble and shot which allowed Morgan to tap in from a yard out and prevent an inauspicious start to Rodgers’ managerial life at Anfield.
Liverpool (first half) (4-3-3): Jones; Wisdom, Sama, Carragher; Enrique; Spearing, Aquilani, Adam; Ibe, Pacheco, Eccleston
Liverpool (second half) (4-3-3): Gulacsi, Flanagan, Skrtel, Wilson, Robinson; Adorjan (sub Lucas 74), Shelvey, Suso; Cole, Sterling, Morgan
Toronto (first half) (4-5-1): Hall, Emory, Morgan (sub Pasher 28), Avila, Frings, Henry, Eckersley, Johnson, Lambe, Dunfield, Silva
Toronto (second half) (4-5-1): Roberts; Galle, Lindsay, Stinson, Harden, Pasher; Wiedeman Eckersley, Camargo, Janniere; Amarikwa