The Kansas City Wizards defeated Manchester United 2-1 in an exhibition game in front of 52,424. The win, while granted only in an exhibition, is still pretty massive.
How massive? Let's try: It is the biggest mid-season victory in Wizards history and marks the first time a Major League Soccer team have beaten Manchester United.
Some people are going to try and, to borrow an English phrase, "take the piss" out of this Wizards for this victory. It was just a friendly, fans are getting too excited about a "win," the Red Devils didn't care about the game, the game wasn't a complete sellout, blah blah blah blah.
The simple fact is this: The world's largest sporting franchise came to Kansas City with a team filled with established or up-and-coming players* to play against a mid-level MLS team in front of 50,000+. And the mid-level MLS team showed their fans (and the 30,000 or so Man United fans in attendance) that they can play and play well.*If you want to say this Man United team "lacked stars," fine. But Darron Gibson, Ritchie de Laet and Danny Welbeck would be among the Top 25 players in MLS if they played over here. Kansas City has, maybe, four players even in the conversation. That would be Kei Kamara, Davy Arnaud, Stephane Auvray and Jimmy Nielsen. Ryan Smith is in the Top 40. Maybe Roger Espinoza, Teal Bunbury and Michael Harrington can get there someday.
The Wizards had nothing to lose from this game. If they won, it would be big news. If they lost, it would be understandable. This allowed them to go out and play.
Meanwhile, for Man United, this was the definition of a trap game.
They are still in preseason training and are playing without three of their first-choice defenders and their star striker. The KC stop was the shortest on the entire tour. The weather, muggy and hot, played against them as well.
But enough about the visitors and their troubles. Let's focus on the hometown team and what they did right.
• Hats off to Peter Vermes for going out and signaling intent to play Man United straight up. The starting XI for KC was the same starting XI from last week's road trip. And, even after going down a man, the team kept up the attack.
• Kei Kamara was very, very impressive. If the All-Star Game really mattered, I'd probably be more angry he wasn't involved. (Though it would be pretty cool if the Wizards beat Man United, but the the MLS All-Star team didn't.) Kamara scored the greatest response goal ever, just a minute after Man United equalized.
• The Wizards' opening goal was the result of a very nice interplay between Teal Bunbury and Kamara and a brilliant run from Davy Arnaud. This is the kind of goal the team should be scoring in almost every MLS game.
• Jimmy Nielsen, as usual, made some very, very impressive saves.
• Stephane Auvray and Craig Rocastle really bossed the midfield. Never thought I'd live to see the day when an MLS midfield could shake possession away from Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.
• I understand that the letter of the law states that Jimmy Conrad's tackle on Dimitar Berbatov was a penalty, but handing out a red card for a non-violent tackle in a "friendly" game seems a tad excessive. Terry Vaughn robbed a long-time Wizard player the chance to play a whole game in front of the biggest soccer crowd in KC history. Shame.
• The team seems to have listened to Vermes' post-Red Bulls talk and gotten back to the basics that made them successful for the first 4 games of the season. Namely, pressing the other team into making mistakes and playing quick passes on the carpet to unhinge the other team's defense.
I want to make a comparison here, but I'll instead let Man United winger Nani do it for me.
“Their entire team played very well today. They played with a lot of motivation because they played Manchester United. It's difficult to compare them directly to Barcelona because they're one of the best teams in the world to play that kind of football, but they play very nice and quick and they passed the ball well like a quality Spanish club. Their style was good.”
Now KC enters the "Life After United" stage of the season. Much is left to do if the team wants to crawl back into the playoff hunt and there are still a lot of questions lingering. Starting on Wednesday, The Full 90 will explore many of these questions in greater details.
For now, let this win linger a little bit.