|photo by CJ Sorg||via PhotoRee|
It's highly appropriate that United played the Fire last night in Chicago, with the US in the middle of a heat wave that is shattering records across this vast country. If Sir Alex's men can get fit in conditions such as this, going back and playing in the much cooler Manchester clime will seem like a cakewalk. With outdoor activities being limited for fear of health risks, it's amazing that 61,308 showed up to see the Champions of England in the heartland of the United States on Saturday evening.
The Boss started a young squad, affording those in attendance the opportunity to see United's future on display. The team on the pitch at kick off featured Tom Cleverly, Mame Biram Diouf, and Gabriel Obertan, among others, and the game also saw the introduction of new defender Phil Jones, and the side's new Spanish goalkeeper, David DeGea, in net.
United began the game more impressively than they started in Seattle, opening up the Fire repeatedly on the counter attack. This continued a theme from the second half of the game against the Sounders: while the MLS teams appear to do reasonably well in what we over here would call a "half court" game, when it comes to the "transition game," or counter-attack, they were ripped open time and again. The US teams appear unable to handle the pace and touch of the United attack, but to be fair, not many teams in England are able to handle it, either!
Chicago created more than one or two chances themselves, and actually opened the scoring with a rare Cory Gibbs' goal (only his 2nd in 99 games). I'm certain that the header which beat De Gea was not the way the Spaniard dreamed about opening up his season. In truth, though, there was very little the new goalkeep could have done to keep the ball out of the net, as Gibbs was marked only in the loosest possible way in between Smalling and Jones. In a scene that was to be repeated more than once, United's defense on the night was a step slow, and I'll wager it didn't help De Gea's confidence to see Jones and Smalling in front of him, especially if he mentally compared it to the defenders who played Wednesday night in front of Lindegaard: Rio and Vida.
On the positive side, Gabriel Obertan impressed in the early going, showcasing his speed on the wing. United and England forward Danny Welbeck also looked lively, running onto balls in space on several occasions and clearly relishing the opportunity to impress both Sir Alex and the huge crowd of United fans watching the game. At the other end of the spectrum, both Phil Jones and Tom Cleverly looked a bit overcome by the heat, and never really got up to first gear in the game's opening 45 minutes.
Rooney, Giggs, Park, Evans and Anderson came on to begin the second half, both in an attempt to change the scoreline, as well as limit some of the players' exposure to the 87 degree heat at game time. Almost immediately, Chris Smalling found the back of the net with a neat finish, only to have his goal ruled offside -- with the referee being correct on the call for virtually the first time all day.
Macheda, Ferdinand and Nani joined the parade of second half substitutions as the game wore on. The Manager's tinkering finally paid off with Rio finding Wazza on 66 minutes, the central defender offering a perfect chip pass and the forward a one touch goal that looked as if it was designed during their much tweeted about video game competitions, to bring the two sides level.
Rafael was introduced into the fray and almost immediately joined the scorers' list, as well, nutmegging the Chicago 'keeper from the very tightest of angles to put the Champs back in their accustomed winning position. Nani finished the visitor's scoring on the night with a sublime chip and flip, delicately lobbing the 'keeper on a ball deflected off a Chicago defender before celebrating by launching himself head over heels to put an exclamation point on the team's second half performance.
United extingusihed the Fire 3-1 on Saturday, although the final scoreline may be said to have flattered the champs slightly -- Chicago managed to represent the MLS better than either New England or Seattle. Despite the heat, the game was another good stepping stone toward the beginning of the new season for United, and Sir Alex had to be pleased with his charges' performance as they jetted off toward the Big Apple, going from the frying pan of Chicago to the fryer of New York.
This is a hot and humid farlieonfootie for July 24.
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