AC Milan and Chivas Guadalajara played on a sorry excuse for a field. And yet the only positives of Milan's trying pre-season tour in North America came on the pitch in Houston.
Against Chivas, on their last stop of a dismal North American tour, on a field that looked jagged and uneven, Milan actually worked hard and put in the effort in a 3-0 win.
There was also some adversity to overcome. Chivas would not let Milan play comfortably. Defender Carlos Salcido kept pestering Mario Balotelli, and the Mexican side ended up drawing several yellow cards.
The first half was almost an experiment for Balotelli. Chivas tested his patience and his resolve, and they tackled him repeatedly. And it was a good test, to see how he would respond. At one point, Balotelli picked himself up and asked Salcido to calm down. It was a rare sight.
Then in the 38th minute, Balotelli had enough clarity of mind to rifle a 25-yard free-kick. He was provoked one time too many.
But there are always two sides to the 23-year-old. Minutes later, Balotelli was booked for a mischievous push from behind. He couldn't keep the composure.
At least he was calm for as long as he was. He is so frequently the target of physical and verbal abuse, but there is scarce evidence of Balotelli under control. Here he was.
Balotelli was not functioning alone up front. There was also M'Baye Niang, who ran all over the pitch chasing balls. He scored the first goal, running on to a cross from Keisuke Honda in the box, and it was a rough goal, Niang poking in the ball.
Niang was determined to reach every ball. Not many fans understand his value but at 19, he is starting to show it.
I am proud of Niang and his abilities. Still think he will be very special. Also, nice goal by Mario today. #forzamilan -GC— AC Milan Club NY/NJ (@ACMilanNYC) August 7, 2014
Finally there was Honda. He is the type of player that needs his teammates to make the run. Because he will find them.
There is a lovely bit of patience about a player like Honda. He is not going to do the running but he will deliver those who do. He is essentially the creative force behind the grunt work, and he needs that kind of space that he was afforded on Wednesday to set up plays.
He assisted Niang and he set up the third goal. Honda waited on the right flank, slowing down, almost knowing he had back-up coming. Michael Essien swooped by him, and Honda delivered. Essien then drove a cross into the box, and Giampaolo Pazzini blasted the ball in.
Pazzini only played for 45 minutes, but he is made in the mould of Inzaghi, the most natural scorer on the team, more so than Balotelli. Pazzini said in an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Rossoneri Blog) that Inzaghi has spent a little more time with him, guiding him.
"Maybe I happen to say, 'Mister, I could not get to the ball.' And he tells me what he did in a similar situation when he was playing."
Pazzini was positioned in perfect time and space to score that third goal. It was like Inzaghi himself was playing. Maybe there is room for both Balotelli and Pazzini to play after all.
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