The Full 90

Manchester United Week, Day 6: A “friendly” match up

I hate the term “friendly.” Like “participation trophy” in youth soccer, it is an attempt to make something competitive seem not as competitive.

It also doesn’t help the sport gather any traction in the “toughness” category it has always struggled to keep up in.

There will be nothing friendly in the competition between the Kansas City Wizards and Manchester United on Sunday except the ceremonial exchange of jerseys at the end of the game. These are competitive teams with two different goals in mind and both will play to accomplish these goals.

Sure, it’s a pre-season exhibition for the Red Devils, but don’t confuse this with an American Throwball pre-season game. In the NFL, the players get into shape using training camp, rigid drills, seven-on-seven games and unit-specific activities to get into shape. The only way to get a soccer player into game shape is to let them run out for 60 to 90 minutes in the pre-season.

For the record, I am a huge American Throwball fan. Have been my entire life. It supersedes my love of soccer. I just enjoy calling it American Throwball or The Version of Football Where Everyone Hates The Guy Who Uses his Foot... Ball.

The Wizards will be looking to continue improving upon the slight winning streak they started last week in Columbus. Manchester United will be trying to get their players in shape for the regular season.

So, how will these two teams match up? Who’s going to win?

What challenges the Wizards present Manchester United.

?

Pressure.

One of the hallmarks of Peter Vermes’ team this year has been high pressure defense. It works when Stephane Auvray is in the game (and when the team isn’t allowing soft goals on defense to undermine the pressure). The Red Devils haven’t played a pressing team on this tour. Celtic was also in pre-season form and were looking for the counter. Philadelphia played higher up, but didn’t actively confront them as high as KC will. If KC can get younger players like Chris Smalling, Fabio or Tom Cleverley isolated in bad position, they could be turnover prone.

Acclimation.

Face it, Paul Scholes needs to apply about 35 layers of sunscreen just to spend 15 minutes on the beach. What will 60 minutes in a muggy Kansas City evening be like for him? Or for any of the English players used to 65 degrees (at max) and rain? Kansas City has been playing in this weather for 6 weeks now.

What challenges Manchester United presents Kansas City. Poise.

Even the youngest Man United attackers are seasoned goal scorers. Federico Macheda scored an injury-time winner in his first EPL game. Danny Welbeck and Gabriel Obertan have appeared in international youth tournaments. Dimitar Berbatov oozes class in the box. If this were a game played only in the opposing team’s penalty box, Man United wins walking away. (Thankfully for KC, it’s played on the whole field. Hopefully.)

An actual top-flight defense.

The Wizards haven’t exactly lit up the notorious stalwart MLS defenses this season (12 goals in 16 games). But even without Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, Manchester United are stocked with high-caliber defenders. Jonny Evans is young and strong and, while Wes Brown might be Samuel L. Jackson’s character in “Unbreakable” at times, he’s still international grade. The da Silva twins have loads of potential and John O’Shea is better than at least 90 percent of MLS defenders. Breaking them down will be very tough for a team that has struggled breaking everyone down.

Key Match Ups Roger Espinoza and Michael Harrington stopping wide play.

Sir Alex Ferguson loves interchangeable pieces, and Obertan, Welbeck, Ryan Giggs, Tom Cleverley, Nani and Darren Fletcher are all capable of filling any spot across the midfield and even up into the wings. This gives him a ton of attacking options. Especially against two mid-20s fullbacks who might be a little over their heads.

Kei Kamara and Teal Bunbury vs. Chris Smalling and Evans.

If you can find one weak spot on this incarnation of Man United, it’s the lack of athleticism in the middle. KC is not short on athletic big guys. Smalling was unimpressive against Celtic and Danny Mwanga/Alejandro Moreno gave Brown and Evans fits.

Can the Wizards actually win?

Um... yes? But they can only can win in the sense that “anything is possible” in an exhibition. With a little pressure, a bit of luck and the chance of a muggy and humid night, the Wizards could stick with them. After all, Philadelphia held tight with Man United, losing only 1-0. In the end, unless KC somehow solves the riddle of why they can’t score goals, this game will probably go to the visitors. I think Manchester United 2, Kansas City 1. Good showing, good test for both teams. Lots of fans leave happy.

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