And after that dreadful performance, the fans in Kansas applauded United off the pitch.
And the KC fans were very happy.
The atmosphere was building around Arrowhead stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, as a record crowd for a soccer event amassed to see Manchester United take on the local Wizards. Outside before kickoff fans were treated to a U2 cover band with “The Edge” complete with stocking cap and goatee. Being the most western match of the Summer Tour’s American leg, many fans from the west coast viewed this as their opportunity to see the Reds in person. Accounts of travel from the people in my section included Dallas, TX, Wisconsin, St. Louis, and Seattle.
As kickoff approached the starting lineups were displayed on screen, with Ryan Giggs being named first as team captain. The loudest cheers were easily for Giggs and Scholes, with possibly Berbatov as a distant third. After the announcement the teams lined up for the national anthems with the highlight being a jet fighter flyover at the finale of the Star Spangled Banner.
Apparent from the start was the youth at the back, with De Laet and Ben Amos getting their first taste of action. Smalling also returned to the starting lineup to partner Johnny Evans with Rafael on the outside. The Wizards preyed on the inexperience early, with good speed and physical play during the first five minutes, most of which was threateningly close to our goal. Ritchie De Laet seemed to slowest to get involved with Evans and Giggs having to make saving tackles, and giving the youngster an earful afterwards. United seemed to settle in and began controlling the ball, working it around the park with Paul Scholes always popping up to make himself available. Unfortunately, with the possession, our fullbacks were caught forward when the Wizards won the ball after 11 minutes. A good through ball beat Evans and Smalling, leaving Davy Arnaud the chance to put the home side up. The home fans, behind their goal, erupted to the beating of drums and chants of K.C. Wiz-ards.
After the restart United looked like the side we see during the season after they concede. There is just a palpable feeling that the team will right the ship and even the score. The lads had to work for the opportunity though, with the home team buzzing around and covering as much ground as they could. You could tell from the players and fans this was their cup final. Over the next 30 minutes United worked in a foothold but KC kept coming thick and fast at every counter attack opportunity. Amos was called to action a few times, and the motives of the MLS Referee were called in to question as more and more decisions felt like they were going against us. Highlighted by giving Ryan Giggs a yellow card for no more than occurs before every corner kick.
Then came a wonderful ball through to Berbatov, who beat his defender and shielded the ball as the tackle came in. The referee had to no choice but to point to the spot and send fan-favorite Jimmy Conrad off. As we wondered if Giggs or Nani would take the penalty, the big Bulgarian lined up the kick himself. Thoughts returned to the penalty during the Carling Cup which solidified some fans opinions of his worth. Undisturbed by any of us though, and with as much class as you’d like, Berbatov sent the keeper the wrong way and rolled his penalty into the corner. Now the United contingent erupted, with far more voices than KC could account for.
Our joy was short lived though as almost immediately KC bombed down on our defense and won a corner. Swung in with pace it was glanced on by Kei Kamara, beating Amos and bouncing down off the cross bar. From were I was sitting I wasn’t sure the ball had crossed the line, but again the referee seemed sure of himself and awarded the goal just before halftime.
The second half didn’t have much noteworthy action. United fought to come back but Scholes and Gibson both shot over the bar. KC sat back and worked for each other, covering and breaking up United attacks. They only really created one chance themselves, forcing Amos into a really good diving save. As United looked for a way back the time had come for some more young legs to get stretched with Macheda, Fabio, Obertan, Cleverly and Welbeck all making apperances. Obertan got a cheer when he beat a couple of defenders down the right to put in a cross, but it was ultimately cleared. The best chance may have been with Welbeck, but the ball arrived chest high and so quick he couldn’t steer it home and it went wide.
At the fulltime whistle the KC end again went up with shouts as they became the first team to claim a win over United during the tour, hoping that the experience and confidence can move the team forward in the MLS this season. While us United fans were disappointed by the result, this was a chance to see legends like Scholes and Giggs, world class internations like Nani and Berbatov, and the future of the club like Macheda and the Da Silvas. This was a chance to sing “Gary Neville is a Red” and “Every single one of us loves Alex Ferguson” in public and en mass with fellow Reds. This was one of the few times where the event and experience will be remembered longer than the scoreline.