FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The record crowd of 51,523 fans who filled Gillette Stadium for Wednesday night’s friendly match between the New England Revolution and Barclays Premier League champion Manchester United were thrilled by the second half, which included all five goals in United’s 4-1 victory.
The Revs, meanwhile, were more pleased with the scoreless first half, in which the MLS side stood toe-to-toe with one of the world’s top clubs and limited the likes of Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Nani to just two shots on target.
“We’re happy with the way things went in the first half,” said Revolution head coach Steve Nicol. “I thought we were pretty solid, defended well. We were fitter and sharper than them, so it was important that we kept things tight and we did.
“We’re playing against players who, at the end of the day, are smarter between the ears than your average player,” he continued. “I thought we dealt with that well.”
The complexion of the match changed dramatically after the halftime break when both sides made wholesale changes. All told, United introduced seven new players in the second half, while the Revs made a total of nine substitutions.
All five goals were scored by substitutes. Michael Owen (51), Federico Macheda (54, 61) and Ji-Sung Park (80) struck for Manchester United, while Kenny Mansally (56) registered the Revolution’s lone tally.
Admittedly, there was a bit of good fortune behind New England’s breakthrough, which was aided by an unexpected deflection. Lining up over a 20-yard free kick in the middle of the field, Benny Feilhaber drilled a low shot through the box which inadvertently struck Mansally and bounced into the vacant net, past United goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard as he dove the opposite direction.
“I just told Kenny, ‘Stand there and I’ll bank it off you and it’ll go in,’” joked Feilhaber. “I’m glad Kenny was there because I don’t think that was going in the goal. I was just going to try and aim at that spot because the wall was really close – I don’t even think they gave us 10 yards – but wanted to go goalie-side. I mishit it a bit and Kenny was in the right spot.”
Perhaps the most important aspect of Wednesday night’s match was the boost it can provide as the Revolution moves forward with the rest of its league schedule. The Revs struggled through the first half of the campaign and are currently stuck in an eight-game winless run in MLS play, so any confidence the club can take from its first-half performance against United could prove vital in the coming weeks.
New England won’t have to wait long to see if any boost is forthcoming, as the Revolution will host the Philadelphia Union in just four days on Sunday, July 17.
“It’s always good to get anything positive against these guys,” Feilhaber said in reference to the scoreless first half. “Forty-five minutes is a solid amount of time.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to get 90 minutes and regardless whether you’re playing [Manchester United] or if you’re playing Philadelphia, or whoever you’re playing, you’re going to have to get 90 minutes to get a result,” he continued. “If we play the way we played in the first half for 90 minutes against Philadelphia, I’m sure we can get something.”