Several months ago, I was excited after hearing that Manchester United would be touring America again. I had gone to last year’s match in Philadelphia where the match was decided by one goal by Manchester United youngster Gabriel Obertan. It was a memorable experience as it marked the first time I ever saw Manchester United in person.
However, this past week’s match against New England Revolution looked even more intriguing as most of the players were able to go along to the USA this time, unlike last summer due to many stars playing in the World Cup. All of the stars were now on hand to take the pitch in front of the United faithful who had made the trip to Gillette Stadium.
The long walk from the parking lots to the stadium was quite enjoyable as it was filled with supporters wearing different kits. It was like being part of the Red Army marching into the stadium to witness the glory of the beautiful game. The pride and the anticipation were truly swelling up inside me.
After marveling at the sight of the pitch and the rest of Gillette Stadium, the United players came out for training. My friends and I rushed over to where they were to get the best view possible of them preparing for their first match of the pre-season. Being only 30 yards away from the likes of Rooney, Vidic, Ferdinand, Park, Giggs and so many others made me think how strange it was to actually see them so close up. For soccer fans in North America, one can become so used to always seeing your heroes through a television or a computer screen versus watching them in person. I felt like after so much time writing, following, arguing, and thinking about these athletes, they almost seem like they are from another universe. And yet, there they were, training like any other bunch of guys before a match. It was truly a sight to enjoy and a lot to take in all at once.
Not too long afterwards, the match was set to begin. I and the rest of the fans got a chance to salute the team as they first walked out onto the pitch from the tunnel. It was a moment for me and many others to raise our scarves and cheer proudly for the Red Devils from Manchester. With Wayne Rooney standing over the ball in the middle of the field, the referee blew the whistle and just like that, the match was underway.
In the first 20 minutes, United were understandably rusty after not playing together since their loss to Barcelona in Wembley. Both teams took time to settle and the only memorable moment in the first ten minutes was the delay on the field due to several matchballs being flat.
The Revolution were ready to play though as they showed with a Shalrie Joseph header that rolled just wide of the post. As the half progressed, United started to find their form in terms of controlling possession and building chances. Ashley Young, in his first game ever for Manchester United, impressed on the wing as he eluded defenders and whipped in decent crosses that Rooney and Berbatov just failed to finish. It was typical United as they built one chance after another with Rooney attempting a bicycle kick, Nani doing his usual fancy footwork, Carrick and Anderson running the midfield and Fabio and Rafael making darting runs from the back. Revolution goalie Matt Reis was called upon to make some key saves against Berbatov and Nani towards the end of the half. With that, the first half ended and United fans had to exhale from a mixed 45 minutes where United came on at the end but failed to score.
As the second half commenced, several predictable changes were made as Rooney and Berbatov were replaced by Michael Owen and Federico Macheda. Five minutes into the half, United found their first goal after an excellent pass from Carrick sent Owen into the box who smoothly finished it past Reis. United had their goal and now the match was on.
A little more than three minutes later, Nani made a wonderful pass that sent in Carrick on the edge of the box who centered the ball to Federico Macheda. The 19-year old Italian knew what to do from there as he slotted it into the net for United’s second. The rout seemed to be on.
However, barely a minute later, New England Revolution came roaring back after they got a free kick right outside the box in the center. Benny Feilhaber, the veteran of the U.S. National Team, kicked the ball into the wall, and a bounce off Kenny Mansally sent goalie Anders Lindegaard the wrong way as it rolled into the net. I joked with my friends that United hardly ever make anything easy.
However, five minutes later United would get their third when a cross into the box that the Revolution failed to clear landed at Macheda’s feet, who scored his second of the night as he slotted the ball into the other side of the net. It capped off an unbelievable stretch of four goals in eleven minutes.
The game then went into cruise control for United as more substitutes continued to enter. One of the biggest highlights of the second half was the inclusion of Ryan Giggs onto the pitch. The crowd (and I) roared as the Welshman took the field. Seeing arguably the greatest player in the history of Manchester United on the field was a true delight.
Manchester United proved they weren’t finished scoring yet either. In the 80th minute, Gabriel Obertan, after what seemed like a minute of dancing with the ball on the edge of the box, passed the ball to Ji-Sung Park who made a clever one-two pass with Giggs that set him up with a cheeky chip shot over the goalie into the net for the fourth goal of the evening for United. It was in my mind the best goal of the night as it showed the skill and chemistry of some of United’s senior players.
As the clock struck the 90th minute, the referee blew the final whistle and ended a sensational half of football. It was the last moment for United fans to cheer passionately for their team as the players left the field. It also marked the end of an amazing night for me and the rest of the United fans who made the trip. As I left the stadium, I felt truly appreciative of the rare opportunity of seeing Manchester United on hand. One day, I’ll make my first trip to Old Trafford to witness the Red Devils in the Theatre of Dreams. However, at that moment, watching the stunningly long line of car lights leaving the stadium was enough to mark off a captivating night of football.