FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Revolution may have lost 4-1 to Manchester United, but it was nevertheless a strong showing. In front of 51,523, the largest club friendly crowd in Gillette Stadium history, the Revolution shutout United in the first half before conceding four second half goals.
The Revolution, who have struggled to find momentum in MLS play this season and currently sit last in the Eastern Conference, were more positive than they have been in recent weeks. Coach Steve Nicol employed a 4-1-4-1 formation, using Shalrie Joseph and Benny Feilhaber as the central midfield combination and Pat Phelan as a defensive midfielder. Franco Coria started in place of Ryan Cochrane and played next to AJ Soares, while Chris Tierney and Kevin Alston patrolled the flanks as outside backs.
The new tactical formation worked as well as it could have against Manchester United, who had not played a game since their 3-1 loss on May 28 against Barcelona in the Champions League Final.
“Benny and I were interchanging a bit,” said Shalrie Joseph. “We moved and tried to keep the ball. Feilhaber was awesome he filled into the spaces and I just worked off of that. We have a partnership but we still have to work it out.”
Joseph connected with a cross from Tierney in the 12th minute and put it wide of goal. Wayne Rooney then headed a cross from Nani over the crossbar in the 18th.
United, who used freshly signed left midfielder Ashley Young for the first time today, applied steady pressure on the Revolution backline. The Revolution were able to keep hold of the ball and keep the visitors at bay for some time, but eventually United’s better skill began to show and New England had difficulty breaking free from the ongoing pressure.
Wayne Rooney attempted a re-make of his famous bicycle kick goal against Manchester City in February in the 38th minute, but Coria managed to stay in front of Rooney long enough to keep him from making solid contact on the ball.
Then, in the 41st minute, Fabio broke past Alston and went to the end-line before squaring the ball in the middle of the penalty area for Dimitar Berbatov. Berbatov hit the pass first time and had his effort parried by Matt Reis, who had to scramble to make the save after nearly being caught out of position for covering the near post.
“Great save from Matt,” said Nicol. “As far I can remember, we restricted them to that [in the first half]. I thought we defended well. At the end of the day we’re playing guys who are smarter between the ears than your average player. We moved the ball well, possessed it in great areas and created chances here and there.”
Both teams made substitutions going into the second half though United had the expected better supply of talent coming off the bench. The Revolution, with fatigue in mind ahead of their league match on Sunday against Philadelphia, changed their entire back four with mostly second string defenders and put Bobby Shuttleworth in for Reis.
“We were happy with the way things went in the first half,” said Revolution coach Steve Nicol. “We were pretty solid and we defended well. We’re fitter and sharper than them so it was important that we kept things tight, and we did. Obviously we changed the whole back four because we have a huge game coming up Sunday, so we knew it would cause us some problems.”
United’s Michael Owen came on at halftime for Rooney and produced immediately, capitalizing on a through ball from Michael Carrick in the 51st minute that caught the Zak Boggs out of position. With Boggs struggling to cover the right flank, Owen snuck in behind him and fired a low shot past Shuttleworth for the opening score.
“If he was forty he would still have taken it well,” commented Nicol on Owen’s goal. “Legs go about, but it’s what’s going on between your ears. He finds that extra yard, he finds it with his brain, his positional sense. Only one thing’s going to happen and that’s that he’s going to put it in the back of the net.”
Carrick then set up another goal in the 54th minute, playing another through ball past the Revolution defense to Federico Macheda. Macheda calmly poked the ball past Shuttleworth to double United’s advantage.
The Revolution managed to sneak one back moments later after Kenny Mansally was taken down outside the penalty area. Feilhaber stepped up to take the ensuing freekick, which deflected off of Mansally’s foot and rolled past United goalkeeper Andres Lindegaard to cut the deficit in half.
“I just told Mansally: stand there and I’ll bank it off of you,” joked Feilhaber.
“I’m really glad Mansally was there. I don’t think that was going in the goal. I mis-hit it a bit and Mansally was in the right spot. Great finish by him.”
Macheda then added a third for United in the 61st minute, controlling a cross from Rafael at the edge of the penalty area that came off of Sainey Nyassi’s head. Macheda took one touch and buried it, slotting his shot past Shuttleworth at the far post.
United then had their grande finale, a give-and-go between Park Ji-Sung and Ryan Giggs which created a crafty finish. Gabriel Obertan played the ball to Park who then found Giggs. Giggs passed back and Park took two touches around Darrius Barnes and chipped the ball into the back of the net to make it 4-1.
Though the Revolution allowed four goals, they had spells of possession and managed to create some chances against Manchester United, one of the top clubs in world soccer.
“They turned it up a notch in the second,” said Feilhaber. “The first three goals we could have done better, but give them credit they’re a great team. If we play the way we played against them in the first half for ninety minutes against Philadelphia I’m sure we can get something.”
Confidence will be key for the Revolution going into the second half of the season, with the club so far unable to get a string of positive results together to make a playoff push. The friendly provided the Revolution with a chance to see players who had been under the radar. One such player, veteran French midfielder Ousmane Dabo, who may play in Joseph’s absence due to suspension on Sunday against Philadelphia after spending most of the first part of the season injured, used the second half to show his quality on the ball.