IN SIX weeks time the good folk of Houston shall nervously welcome the mighty Indianapolis Colts NFL team back to the magnificent Reliant Stadium and they shall again hope for the best, yet fear the worst. On Thursday night Houston’s soccer fans got to experience this emotion as one of the most famous and successful soccer clubs in the world landed in Texas to play the 15th annual MLS All-Star Game.
Manchester United are not your average soccer club. They’re not even you’re average sports club. They are the most valuable sports club in the world – according to Forbes magazine – worth a staggering £1.2bn.
Being the biggest impresses in America; size matters and none more-so than in the state of Texas – where they like to do things bigger and better. So it came as no surprise to see 70,728 people sell-out Houston’s air-conditioned arena to welcome the latest warm-up for Man U’s forthcoming English Premier League season.
Leading in to the game Man U boss Sir Alex Ferguson had been critical of his players for not being sharp enough in front of goal. Clearly his players had been listening as it took 18 year old starlet Federico Macheda just 22 seconds to give United the lead, capitalising on a horrendous mistake by Kevin Alston. Macheda latched on to Alston’s hospital pass, drove to the 18 yards box and coolly slotted past Donovan’s Rickett’s left hand.
It only took 11 minutes for MLS to gift Macheda a second goal. A routine inswinging corner from Nani found Macheda all alone to bury his header in to the same bottom left corner that he scored his first.
Whisper it but in two years time Macheda could be eligible to play for England.
By now Man U were cruising, stroking the ball around as MLS players introduced themselves to each other. Just before halftime Darren Fletcher should have made it 3-0 after he burst in to the box and cracked a shot against the bar.
The All-Star Game may be ‘the mid-summer classic’ but it is still only a friendly. MLS brought on 6 substitutes at the start of the second half as coach Bruce Arena tried to get his team back in to the game. It nearly had an immediate effect as MLS caused panic amongst United’s defenders from a couple of free-kicks whipped in to the box.
MLS finally made a free-kick pay as Houston Dynamo’s Brian Ching got to the ball ahead of Edwin van der Sar and headed it into to the empty net from 3 yards out. Ching started his run from the back post and was allowed to run across the face of the goal to the near post with no United defender even attempting to pick up his run.
Fergie will have taken note of the difficulties Man U had defending set-pieces throughout the game. Wes Brown and Jonny Evans can count themselves lucky that David Beckham wasn’t delivering the dead-ball for MLS because both of them lost their man on more than one occasion.
The 30,000 or so Man U fans inside Reliant Stadium quickly had any fears of an MLS comeback extinguished as Darron Gibson and Tom Cleverley scored two goals in three minutes. Gibson’s goal was a beauty as he struck a curling free-kick in to the top corner (or upper 90 as it’s known in America) but it was made to look positively ordinary by Cleverley’s goal. Fletcher dinked the ball to the edge of the box where Cleverly ran on to the ball, flicked it over a defender’s head with his left-foot and then volleyed it with his right-foot past the rushing Donovan. Gazza would have been proud.
All Sir Alex needed now was for his debuting £7m new striker to get a goal on his debut. The interest amongst the locals to see Mexico’s Javier Hernandez play almost matched that of USA hero Landon Donovan. ‘Chicharito’ showed in the World Cup that he can handle a bit of pressure and he reaffirmed this by making it 5-1 by lobbing Donovan from 20 yards out after being put clean through by another delicious pass from Fletcher.
Dwayne De Rosario pulled back a consolation goal in the 90th minute to add a touch of respectability of the score and Brad Davis nearly got another hitting the inside of the post from 35 yards out.
They’ll be a great deal of criticism in America about the poor performance from the MLS All-Stars but this was a team with little preparation who are in the middle of a hectic league fixture schedule. In twelve months time the All-Stars may have a few new faces such as Thierry Henry, Nery Castillo and Rafael Marquez to call upon.
Gaffe of the Day – it has to be Alston’s horrible weak pass to Jamison Olave which let Macheda to open the scoring.
Play of the Day – Cleverley’s goal had to be special to outshine Gibson’s free-kick. United have two hot young prospects in these two.
Man of the Match– Darren Fletcher has learnt well from Paul Scholes; he ran the game.