The gap between professional soccer in England and the U.S. was on display last night in Harrison, New Jersey, where Manchester United defeated a group of Major League Soccer’s top players at the league’s All-Star Game.
Dimitar Berbatov assisted Anderson’s goal to open the scoring, and the 30-year-old Bulgarian striker added a goal of his own in the second half as the English Premier League champion cruised to a 4-0 victory in front of a sold-out crowd of 26,760 at Red Bull Arena. The victory comes one year after United, playing without a number of its top players, beat the MLS All-Stars 5-2.
“It’s not embarrassing,” David Beckham of the Los Angeles Galaxy told reporters after the game. “When you play a team like Manchester United you expect it to be hard, you expect them to play like they played.”
The MLS All-Stars returned five of the 23 players who dressed for the game last year, taking the field with a lineup that included former Premier League players Thierry Henry of the New York Red Bulls and Beckham. Henry leads the MLS with 11 goals and Beckham, who won six Premier League titles in his 12 seasons with United, is second in the league with eight assists.
Manchester United’s starting lineup included England striker Wayne Rooney, Park Ji-Sung, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra, all of whom sat out last year’s game on the heels of the World Cup in South Africa.
In 2003 and every year since 2005, the MLS All-Star game has featured the league’s top players against an elite foreign club. The MLS team is winless in the last three games, all of which have come against English clubs.
“We enjoyed it over here, the standard of football is getting better,” Rooney said after the game.
Park Selected MVP
Berbatov and Rooney exchanged passes in the game’s 20th minute to leave Anderson wide open in front of the MLS goal. The 23-year-old midfielder fired the ball into the bottom right corner of the net. Park, selected the game’s most valuable player, added to the lead with one minute remaining in the half when he beat two defenders in the box before firing a shot past goaltender Faryd Mondragon of the Philadelphia Union.
“This is the best team in the world, they have the best players in the world,” Beckham said in an interview after the game. “That’s why they’re so successful.”
The MLS All-Stars had a number of scoring opportunities in the first half, including long-range shots from Brad Davis of the Houston Dynamo and Beckham that were tipped over the crossbar by Manchester goalie Anders Lindegaard.
“It was a tighter game than the score line showed,” United coach Alex Ferguson told reporters. “In the first half, the MLS were a team that was more dangerous than us.”
Welbeck Finishes Scoring
In the 52nd minute, Berbatov lofted a ball over MLS goaltender Tally Hall. The shot hit the crossbar, and Berbatov fired home the rebound. After Ferguson removed Rooney, Park, Berbatov and Rio Ferdinand in the 61st minute, Danny Welbeck finished the scoring.
Omar Bravo of Sporting KC had an uncontested rebound that he pushed wide halfway through the second half, and Beckham knocked a free kick into the side netting with less than five minutes remaining as the MLS All-Stars struggled throughout the game to finish their chances. Hans Backe, the team’s coach, told reporters after the game that he was “quite pleased with the performance,” and that the difference came in the attacking part of the field.
“The only difference for me was the final third, and that of course is an important one,” said Backe, who coaches the Red Bulls. “They took their chances, they are a little bit sharper, but otherwise we had our chances too.”
For the past two weeks, Manchester United has toured the U.S. playing exhibitions against MLS teams in preparation for its Premier League season. The Red Devils outscored the American clubs 14-2 in those games, beating the New England Revolution 4-1 on July 13, followed by a 7-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders and a 3-1 win over the Chicago Fire. The team commands a $2 million appearance fee for each game, according to the New York Times.
Striker Javier Hernandez, who punctuated his United debut with a goal in the 2010 MLS All-Star game, sat out due to a concussion. Galaxy striker Landon Donovan also missed the game.
“He’s fine,” Ferguson said of Hernandez. “He’s had the all clear, he’s out of hospital. He’s back in the hotel. We’ll give him a couple of weeks and I’m sure he’ll be OK.”
United finishes its tour of the U.S. on July 30 with an exhibition game against Spanish champion Barcelona at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.
United starts its Premier League season Aug. 14 against West Bromwich Albion. The Red Bulls travel to London to play Arsenal on July 30.
“I hope we don’t end up embarrassing the league with that game on Saturday,” Backe said.