United jolts Revolution with four strikes in second half
FOXBOROUGH - Six weeks ago, Manchester United reached its third Champions League final in four years. The Red Devils took their first step toward a return last night, with a 4-1 win over the Revolution in an exhibition match before 51,523 at Gillette Stadium.
This was the opener of a five-match preseason tour for United. And the Revolution, 17th in the overall MLS standings, made things difficult in a scoreless first half. But after halftime, both teams went to their benches. And the game became a rout.
“Obviously, we’re fitter and sharper than them so it was important we kept things tight and we did,’’ Revolution coach Steve Nicol said. “We changed the whole back four - we have a huge game coming up Sunday [against Philadelphia]. We knew it would cause us some problems but we had to do it to look after ourselves.’’
United, playing for the first time since losing to Barcelona at Wembley Stadium in May, needed much of the opening half to get warmed up and, eventually, started clicking on all cylinders. Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis made a point-blank save on Dimitar Berbatov and defender Kevin Alston cleared a Wayne Rooney shot off the line. Rooney also whiffed on a bicycle kick.
Manager Alex Ferguson started substituting, and the second-string strikers put the match away. Michael Owen scored in the sixth minute of the second half, breaking in alone on the left to finish a Michael Carrick feed. Three minutes later, Federico Macheda made it 2-0 on a breakaway, again off a Carrick assist.
The Revolution surprised United, though, as Kenny Mansally slipped past Rio Ferdinand, earning a free kick from inside the penalty arc. Mansally then redirected Benny Feilhaber’s kick in the 56th minute.
“The wall definitely wasn’t 10 yards away, and I didn’t think I could put it over the wall,’’ Feilhaber said. “I mishit it a bit, Kenny was in the right spot, it went in off the shins, or wherever it hit him - great finish by him.’’
That seemed to energize the Revolution and provide some hope.
But Macheda converted for the second time, finishing unmarked at the back post off a corner kick in the 61st minute. United closed the scoring on a Ji-Sung Park finish in the 81st minute. Gabriel Obertan started the sequence, freezing the Revolution defenders on the left side of the penalty area, then centering. Park and Ryan Giggs played a give-and-go from inside the penalty spot, Park chipping over goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth.
“You saw his touches, he has something special,’’ Ferguson said of Macheda. “We’re expecting big things from him.’’
The quality - and market value - of United’s reserves is higher than any MLS team. And the Red Devils did not have several players available. Goalkeeper David De Gea and Javier “Chicharito’’ Hernandez are set to join the tour later. Midfielder Antonio Valencia has been with Ecuador in the Copa America tournament. French defender Patrice Evra remained on the bench.
Anders Lindegaard went the distance in goal for United, but De Gea is likely to take over the starting role.
“The first half [the Revolution] were very competitive,’’ Ferguson said. “And I think what happens, when you make changes in a game, sometimes you lose that momentum you had in the first half. I think that maybe they weren’t as forceful and powerful as they were in the first half. Athletic, it’s what you expect of the States’ teams – they’re all athletic, very committed, fit, and organized. So yeah, they’ll be pleased.’’
Revolution defender A.J. Soares was asked what the score would have been if the Revolution starters had stayed in for the second half.
“4-1, probably,’’ he said. “We’re at the bottom of the league in the East, but we went out and went face to face with Man United, at least for the first half. So, it shows how much quality our league has and the quality of the players. It gives us confidence, knowing we can hang with those guys. We did a lot of good things in the first half, and in the second half, that’s when we got our goal.
“If they put their third string on, they’re still the best club in the world. I felt like the team overall, especially in the first half, we had it together. And, you never know, we could have come out of the half, 1-0, up.’’
The Revolution did execute some effective passing combinations in the opening half, as Feilhaber found room with Shalrie Joseph and Pat Phelan in support in a 4-5-1 alignment. Joseph had the Revolution’s best chance in the run of play, glancing a header wide off a Chris Tierney cross in the 12th minute.
But the gulf between the top leagues and MLS remains wide. The Revolution have a 1-8-1 home record in friendly matches against European and South American clubs since 1996.
“Obviously, for the fans it was good to see some goals,’’ Nicol said. “I’m sure Alex is happy with what he saw. It was a training session, basically, for them.’’
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.