FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A strong opening 45 minutes and a 0-0 score line at halftime left the New England Revolution with plenty of positives to take from their international exhibition with Manchester United on Wednesday night, despite eventually succumbing to a 4-1 defeat.
The Revs and United traded chances throughout the first half in a lively performance in front of an international club friendly record crowd of 51,523 at Gillette Stadium, entering the break in a scoreless deadlock. United would show their class in the second half, however, as six subs weakened the Revolution lineup and the visitors found more space to exploit throughout the field.
“I think that the most important thing that we got out of tonight, especially with the starting 11, that we were a very confident team, that we moved the ball well, possessed it in great areas, helped create chances and got a shutout [at halftime],” said Revolution captain Shalrie Joseph. “But at the end of the day [it was] mental mistakes over and over that we got punished for. A team of Manchester’s caliber you can’t make those kinds of mistakes and obviously we lost 4-1.”
The Revs started the match using essentially their regular starting lineup. Zak Boggs and Franco Coria replaced Darrius Barnes and Ryan Cochrane as the only changes from the team that drew 3-3 with Real Salt Lake on July 4.
United opened the match with a strong side that included Wayne Rooney, Nani and Dimitar Berbatov, among other stars. The powerful lineup looked to dominate play in the opening minutes, but it wouldn’t last.
The first real opportunity of the match belonged to the Revs on a 12th-minute diving header from Joseph off a Tierney cross that rolled just wide.
United would counter with a shot from Berbatov near the penalty spot that forced an amazing diving save from Matt Reis in the 41st minute.
“Obviously we were pretty happy with the way things went in the first half,” said Revs head coach Steve Nicol. “I thought we were pretty solid and defended well. Obviously we’re fitter and sharper than them so it was important that we kept things tight and we did.”
But the halftime substitutes would serve up a different game. The Revs made six changes, including swapping out the entire back line and Reis, and United would exploit what was clearly a less comfortable defense.
“You take out your starting back four in any team in the league and you’re definitely going to struggle,” said Joseph.
Just six minutes into the second period, the Red Devils took the lead after substitute Michael Owen exploited Boggs, who had shifted out of his normal midfield position to right back, to get in alone on goal off a pass from Michael Carrick. Owen calmly slotted it past backup ‘keeper Bobby Shuttleworth to put the visitors in the lead.
Two minutes later, 19-year-old Italian striker Federico Macheda would double the lead, coolly finishing inside the far post after another set-up by Carrick.
The Revs would pull one back in the 56th minute when a Benny Feilhaber free kick from the top of the box deflected off Kenny Mansally, sending goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard the wrong way as the ball rolled just inside the post.
But that was as close as the home side would get, as United would retake their two-goal advantage in the 61st minute. Sainey Nyassi couldn’t get enough on a header to clear a cross after a short corner kick, allowing Macheda to get the ball unmarked at the far post and take his time to easily blast an effort on frame for his second goal of the night.
“[United] turned it up a notch in the second [half],” said Feilhaber. “I think the first three goals we could’ve done better at.”
But the Red Devils weren’t done after three. Their final goal of the night came with under 10 minutes remaining when substitutes Gabriel Obertan, Ji-Sung Park and Ryan Giggs combined to slice up the Revolution defense, leaving Park to chip a shot over Shuttleworth just a few feet from goal to finish an impressive sequence.
But while the second half and end result were far from ideal, the Revs found plenty of positives to take from an impressive first-half display against the European Champions League runners-up as they look to turn their struggling season around, starting with a match-up against Philadelphia on Sunday.
“If we play the way we played in the first half for 90 minutes against Philadelphia, I’m sure we can get something,” said Feilhaber.
Sean Donahue is the co-founder of New England Soccer Today (www.nesoccertoday.com), which covers professional soccer within New England.