July 11, 2011
By Adam Burrows
Sir Alex leads English champs to Foxboro
New England Soccer News correspondent
Alex Ferguson plies his trade in select company.
|Sir Alex Feguson is bringing Manchester United to the U.S. for the second straight year.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Sir Francis Drake delivered Spanish plunder from the Caribbean, Sir Walter Raleigh tobacco from the Virginia plantations.
Sir Alex merely ships a steady supply of shiny hardware to the former textile capital of the industrial revolution.
Since assuming the helm at Manchester United in 1986, the legendary 69-year-old Glaswegian has brought to Old Trafford twelve English Premiership titles, five FA Cups, four League Cups, two UEFA Champions League titles, and one FIFA Club World Cup.
On Wednesday night, Sir Alex will bring the defending English champions to Gillette Stadium to take on the New England Revolution before a national TV audience (ESPN-2, 8:00 ET),
Call it soccer royalty paying a visit to the sporting equivalent of a backwater village.
Or a globetrotting tour reminiscent of another team of Globetrotters, with the Revolution cast in the role of the Washington Generals.
Foxboro is the first destination for Manchester United on a two-week, five-stop whirlwind American tour that will also include games against Seattle (July 20), Chicago (July 23), and the MLS All-Stars (July 27 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ), before concluding with a rematch of the recent Champions League Wembley final against Barcelona (July 30 at FedEx Field in Landover, MD).
At Monday’s press conference held soon after the Manchester United entourage arrived in Boston, a travel-weary Ferguson, in answer to a question about the current state of professional soccer in America, began by reaching way back to his first soccer junket to the United States.
Recalling the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the New York Cosmos and the promise of the NASL in the 1978, Ferguson then fast-forwarded to United’s 2-1 loss to the Kansas City Wizards during the team’s 2010 North American summer tour and noted the vastly improved athleticism and coaching in MLS today. “You’re not going to get an easy game.”
Ferguson also noted the “unbelievable possibilities in the U.S.” and even ventured the speculation that MLS will one day segment into geographically defined leagues to reduce the need for “long-haul travel.”
Sitting alongside his fellow Scotsman, New England Revolution head coach Steve Nicol, Ferguson was generous in his praise for his counterpart, citing the “great record he’s had” with the necessary qualification, “apart from this season.”
Ferguson, who coached Nicol on the 1986 Scotland World Cup team that was eliminated in the group stage with one point in three matches, also recalled the former Liverpool defender’s “versatility, speed, ability, and attitude” on a “good Scottish team that was unlucky in Mexico.”
For Ferguson and United, the match on Wednesday and the exhibition tour
represents an opportunity to develop game fitness in preparation for the grueling upcoming domestic and international campaigns, integrate recent signings Phil Jones and Ashley Young into the line-up, and inaugurate the post-Paul Scholes era. Not to mention an opportunity to market the worldwide Man U brand.
For Nicol, the match represents a chance for the Revolution to sharpen their skills “against one of the best teams on the planet.”
When Revolution midfielder and captain Shalrie Joseph was asked if he’ll be intimidated by the global masters, Joseph dismissed the concern. “I’ve played them on video games. I know how technically gifted they are. I won’t be surprised one bit.”
On a less virtual note, Joseph also acknowledged the need for New England “to try to take it to them, to get something positive, to get our confidence back, our swagger.”
For a team on the ropes, one can only hope that top-drawer competition will restore their punch before they move on to the next rounds of the MLS season, beginning Saturday night at Gillette against the upstart Philadelphia Union, currently tied for first in the Eastern Conference.