March 29, 2011
By Charles Cuttone
TAKING THE CHALLENGE
United sees better competition against MLS clubs
When Manchester United toured the United States in 2004, their opponents were all European clubs, Bayern Munich, Glasgow Celtic and AC Milan. This year’s tour, their second in as many seasons, features predominantly Major League Soccer opponents. It’s not that the 18-time English champions are looking for patsies to beat up on. Quite the contrary.
|Manchester United defender John O’Shea tangles with Philadelphia Union’s Sebastien Le Toux on the way to a 1-0 United win last July 21 at Lincoln Financial Field.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
“"We're finding it increasingly more exciting each time we come here," Manchester United Manager Alex Ferguson told a news conference at Red Bull Arena on Tuesday.
"The big change now is MLS is now developing into a very competitive league and producing the teams that make it more difficult to play against, as we found out last season against Kansas (City)."
Last year, the Red Devils lost 2-1 to the man-down Kansas City Wizards. They also beat the Philadelphia Union 1-0 and trounced the MLS All-Stars 5-2.
Most of this year’s United tour is part of the World Football Challenge. The New England Revolution and Chicago Fire will take part in the event, along with Manchester United and FC Barcelona. Additional European clubs are expended to be added to the event, which was launched in 2009 by Creative Artists Agency. The Revs and Fire are only slated to play one game in the WFC.
MLS’s participation in the World Football Challenge marks an end to the SuperLiga, an international tournament the league and SUM created that pitted MLS teams against Mexican clubs. Unlike the WFC, the teams selected for the SuperLiga were based on a merit system, with the top four MLS clubs not participating in the CONCACAF Champions League selected. MLS Commissioner Don Garber told MLSSoccer.com the US-Mexican tournament had outlived its usefulness, since the expanded CONCACAF Champions League now gives clubs the opportunity to compete within the region. The inability of many of the SuperLiga games to draw a crowd no doubt played a part as well.
All three confirmed matches in the WFC feature Manchester United, one each against FC Barcelona, the Revolution (July 13 at Gillette Stadium) and the Fire (July 23 at Soldier Field). Along with their previously announced participation in the 2011 AT&T MLS All-Star Game on Wednesday, July 27, the Red Devils also announced a fourth stateside game, which will take place outside of the World Football Challenge, against the Seattle Sounders FC on the Xbox Pitch at Qwest Field on Wednesday, July 20 (10:00 p.m. ET). The tour will wrap up against Barca on Saturday, July 30 at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.
"Tours are a fantastic chance for the players to get away as a unit, to put in some good training sessions and to meet some of our fans around the world who don't have a chance to watch us play live every week," Ferguson said.
"Our visits to the US are always enjoyable ones. The training facilities are excellent and we certainly found last year that, with the improving quality of the MLS teams, the games are very competitive, which is great preparation for a new season.
"To finish off with a match against Barcelona will be a special moment for all our fans in the States."
Although not a part of the WFC, which will be played in National Football League stadiums, Manchester United also is facing the MLS All-Stars at 25,000 seat Red Bull Arena. Although that game could have been played at the New Meadowlands Stadium, it is being held in the more intimate facility as a reward to the team’s owners.
“Yes, we’re going to be leaving a lot of money on the table,” M.L.S. Commissioner Don Garber said. “When we started to develop stadiums we were not sure we would have a facility like Red Bull Arena. Now this club has earned the right to host this match. We haven’t had a special soccer event here since our first all-star game in 1996. The fans deserve it.”
The first MLS All-Star game was played as part of a doubleheader that included Brazil against a World All-Star Team, at Giants Stadium.