By Matt Moore, howiGit Contributing Writer, Boston, MA
Last week the reigning English Premier League champion and soccer icon, Manchester United, visited Foxboro for an exhibition match against the New England Revolution. I was in attendance for what was likely my only opportunity to see Manchester United play live. Although some players were absent, and others played sparingly, Manchester displayed its ability to play top class soccer, and further prove just how far American soccer has to go.
I of course did not expect the Revolution to defeat United, despite the Revs being in the middle of their season, and it being United’s first game since losing the Champion’s League final to Barcelona back in May. Add in the fact that the Revolution are a struggling team in the MLS, and it was clear they didn’t stand much of a chance. What I did not expect was United to be so effective, crisp, and display seemingly no sign of rust. That may have been due to the quality of opponent they were facing, but nevertheless they showed how dominant of a team they are from top to bottom. Tied 0-0 at halftime, United ultimately won the friendly 4-1, thanks to a pair of goals from 19 year old Federico Macheda. United’s passing was usually on point, and they moved the ball through the Revolution defense with ease. From the midfield, they were able to play the ball over the top and constantly had chances inside the box. Watching them live, it was amazing to see how well they moved as a team and just how good they truly are. I have seen my fair share of professional soccer games, but nothing compared to seeing a team like Manchester United play. Watching the skill of stars like Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov,and Ryan Giggs was just a small sample of the level of talent the team has.
As someone who has played and followed soccer for most of my life, I was happy to be part of the 51,000+ fans that watched the game from Gillette. I’m well aware of soccer’s popularity, or lack thereof, in this country. Most of my friends give me a hard time about it, and generally don’t care for the game. This is fine with me, and I make no attempt to convert them to soccer fans because I know it is a lost cause; the same way a NASCAR fan would have no hope in turning me on to racing. And I also understand some of the major complaints people have about soccer: the lack of scoring, diving, it’s not a spectator sport, and an apparent lack of excitement. But as we saw with the recent women’s World Cup, America usually gets behind the national teams every few years and even more so when they are successful. However, this has never completely helped soccer turn the corner in the eyes of American sports fans. Soccerwill never compete with any of the major four sports, or even golf and tennis in this country; but I don’t think a league like the MLS is trying to take American fans away from other sports. Rather, they are still doing what they’ve always done: attempting to expose different parts ofthe country to soccer at a (relatively) high level. It then affords fans the opportunity to see a world class team like Manchester United. When you see a team of that skill level play live, it’s hard to say that soccer can’t be a spectator sport.
Seeing the turnout for the United/Revolution game, I realized there are still plenty of passionate soccer fans around; they just need a quality product on the field to rally around. But as United exposed, it will be a likely be a long wait before any MLS team provides that.