As rumors run rampant that Manchester United have sent a delegate to Milan in order to acquire the services of Wesley Sneijder, the club prepares for the first friendly of their United States pre-season tour. In just a few hours time, United will take on the New England Revolution of Major League Soccer (MLS) at Gillette Stadium near Boston. The friendly comes right in the heart of the MLS season, as the league play their season from March through November. There is not much to preview for the match, as it most certainly is an exhibition - the main emphasis is surely fitness and exposing the brand of Manchester United once again to the United States.
The friendly will provide the chance for United supporters to see Ashley Young for the first time in the red shirt. However, the other two newcomers, David De Gea and Phil Jones, each will meet up with the squad at a later time during the tour. Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck, Antonio Valencia, and Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez will all miss tonight's friendly as well - all of the players missing are being given extra time off to either recover from national team duties this summer or are currently with their national team sides now.
Steve Stoehr, of the SBN New England Revolution blog The Bent Musket, was kind enough to provide us a return Q&A ahead of the friendly with the club he supports. Here is the Q&A that I provided for his site. If I am home in time, I will try to provide a live match thread tonight if anybody wants to join for some United banter. Without further ado, here is the Q&A:
TBB: Has the novelty of seeing big clubs like Manchester United in person wore off at all to Revs supporters? I would think it is still exciting for the players to play in these friendlies each year but do the supporters feel that this is a distraction at all during the heart of the season? Perhaps it is a welcome distraction during a season where the Revs are struggling?
Steve: I think clubs like this are still big draws. Manchester United especially appeals to the average Revolution fan because the team has done such a poor job of tapping into the ethnic fanbase in the area. Most diehard Revs fans are used to the bombardment of the English Premier League and the Champions League by major networks, and thus are more familiar with the United squad. The average Massachusetts-area soccer fan still gets plenty excited over clubs like Benfica and Cruzeiro, as well.
In years past, these friendlies were shoehorned into the middle of congested fixture schedules, so a lot of the regular attendees were miffed by the fact that it was so obvious the clubs were just angling for money. A grueling international friendly (or an entire handful of them) does a team no good when they're playing three matches per week for a month straight in a title race. This season, the Revs have had nine days rest to prepare for this match, and as of now it's the only scheduled friendly for the whole summer. I think everyone is just excited to see the squad run out there against a team as legendary and powerful as the Red Devils, rather than having to worry about other issues.
TBB: United specifically, how well are they received in the Boston and New England region? For those that actively watch foreign leagues, is there a certain affinity for Liverpool FC due to the region's connection to John W. Henry, or perhaps even due to head coach Steve Nicol's own link to the same club? Are there any specific United players that you, or other Revs supporters, are looking forward to seeing?
Steve: United as a club probably has about as much connection in Boston and New England as it does anywhere else in America. Many of the Revolution's regular game-day fans watch the EPL and other leagues and are familiar with Man United and may even root for them. The Liverpool FC affiliation is relatively new, and probably hasn't had too much effect on LFC's popularity with the die-hard Revolution fan. To the casual fans, it can go either way, but most of them are much happier to see an EPL side with big stars than the last-placed team in the Eastern Conference anyway.
Everyone who has heard of soccer has heard of Wayne Rooney, so he'll be a draw. Mexican fans in the area will certainly flock for Chicharito, even though I don't believe he'll be present. The big names for most regional fans, though, will be Nani, Anderson, and the Da Silva brothers. Massachusetts has an enormous Portuguese and Brazilian population and they come out to these friendlies in droves, so expect major ovations when they're on the pitch.
TBB: Describe the growth of the MLS. The quality of individual players undoubtedly appears on an upward trend, but despite the success of recent expansion franchises in Toronto, Seattle, Philadelphia, Portland, and Vancouver, do you feel that has diluted things at all and come at the expense of overall quality of play? How do you feel about the league structure (salary cap, draft order, etc) that seemingly strives for relative parity? Is this all uniquely good for the league at this point?
Steve: I think the inclusion of expansion teams has been nothing but good for this league, even as it's shown how far behind New England is falling. I don't hold much stock in the opinion that it dilutes league talent, because in my opinion all it really does is provide more opportunities for American players to make the money they deserve while the influx of better foreign talent has filled in the quality gaps. The league structure in terms of salary cap and forced parity remains a business necessity, so I don't take the stance that some do and consider that a bad thing. I do believe the cap should be raised to allow continued roster expansion, especially with friendlies like this one becoming so normal to the MLS season. Competitions like the US Open Cup and the CONCACAF Champions' League are often overlooked at their expense due to roster restrictions.
I do believe the SuperDraft will soon fall by the wayside or become a relic of ages past. Already the league's best talent is being culled from the ranks of foreign competitions rather than being drafted out of college, where the game is really played as nothing more than a bastardized form of kickball. In terms of allocation lotteries and orders and all that nonsense, none of it makes sense and I think those need to be done away with sooner rather than later.
TBB: MLS recently named their first XI all-stars that will face United during the pre-season tour - it will be of interest to United supporters to see David Beckham again. If you were to field a lineup, which MLS XI and shape would you use to battle United. As someone who regularly watches the Seattle Sounders FC play, I will force you to include Osvaldo Alonso :)
Steve: Why would I include Ozzie when I can pick Shalrie Joseph? :D In all seriousness, the All-Star First XI that was selected is a pretty good one, although I would make some changes. I would probably go with a typical 4-4-2, offering the best balance, and throw together something a little like this:
Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Rafa Marquez, Todd Dunivant
David Beckham, Osvaldo Alonso (Shalrie, if not for your condition!), Jack Jewsbury, Brek Shea
Thierry Henry, Landon Donovan
With a seven-man bench of Faryd Mondragon, Carlos Valdes, Nick LaBrocca, Andres Mendoza, Brad Davis, Ugo Ihemelu, and Chris Wondolowski. Graham Zusi, Khalifa Alhassan, Marco Pappa and Chris Tierney are among those who just miss out.
Manchester United goes to Harvard (via mls)