After following the dominant, tour-opening 4-1 win over New England with a 7-0 shellacking of Seattle, you could be forgiven for feeling like another massive Manchester United-MLS mismatch would end up being yet another mauling.
Alas, the Chicago Fire proved to be the toughest competition United have faced thus far, and had they been able to produce a better end product, an upset could have well and truly been on the cards. However, class shone through in the end, as United showed their counterparts how it’s done with three fine goals in the late stages of Saturday’s 3-1 win.
The final scoreline didn’t do justice to the effort that the Fire, second-half substitutions and all, put in over the course of the 90 minutes. The lead that they took in the 13th minute was certainly a surprise, but it could have been 2-0 or even worse had a clear-cut chance or two been put away as should have been the case.
Those misses didn’t prove costly for Chicago for quite a while, as they held United at bay for more than an hour. But with the gulf in talent between the two sides, especially with United’s big guns on in the second half, the breakthrough was likely to come eventually, and it did almost midway through the second half. Surprising as it was that it took that long for United to find an equalizer, it might have been even more surprising to see none other than Rio Ferdinand providing a brilliant long ball to set up Wayne Rooney for an equally brilliant lob over the keeper.
That goal would be hard to top on many a day, but the same argument can be made for the go-ahead strike less than 20 minutes later, as Rafael finished superbly from the tightest of angles to put United ahead. And for the icing on the cake, Nani produced his own contender, making the most of a fortuitous deflection and coolly chipping the ball past Fire keeper Jon Conway.
Perhaps Chicago took a look at United’s Wednesday win over Seattle and vowed to do their best to avoid a similar embarrassment, but they didn’t show any fear or hesitation about taking United on and creating chances.
For United’s part, going from playing two night games in reasonable conditions to playing an afternoon game in the searing summer heat didn’t help the cause.
A lack of continuity and familiarity with the starting XI could also have been a culprit, with the likes of Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley, Mame Biram Diouf, and Gabriel Obertan all starting along with United debutants David de Gea and Phil Jones.
De Gea likely didn’t have nearly as much to do in his United debut as he normally did with Atletico Madrid, but he did what was required of him. There wasn’t much he could have done about Chicago’s goal, but even if he had been at fault for it, he would have more than made up for it later on with an excellent slide ‘n save that kept it at 1-0. More than anything, I was impressed that he wasn’t afraid to bark out instructions early on. For those who have a concern about whether or not he’ll be able to communicate well with his new teammates, that should help to alleviate some of those worries.
Jones was the beaten man on the Gibbs goal, but overall, he had a solid debut, and of the others who were making their first starts of the tour, I was most impressed with Welbeck, who should have had something to show for the quality performance he had in his hour on the pitch. Such showings can only serve to reinforce Fergie’s reasoning behind not loaning him out again, but we’ll have to see how plentiful opportunities are to come by for him, what with the amount of options there are in attack.