I'd talked previously about how today's game didn't mean much to either side, if the Wizards won it was because Manchester United wasn't playing with all their stars. If United won, it was because, well, they're Manchester United. That said, KC put on a very good performance today out at Arrowhead Stadium, as they took down the Premier League club 2-1. This despite playing 51 minutes a man down after Jimmy Conrad got sent off in the 39th minute for a foul on Dimitar Berbatov. KC came out as the more aggressive side, which was to be expected in a game like this. KC pushed the tempo early on, with Ryan Smith causing major problems for Rafael down the Wizards left and Teal Bunbury working well in the middle to be a physical forward. The Wizards early pressure paid off in the 11th minute, when Bunbury held the ball up well, played it to Kei Kamara, who picked out Davy Arnaud streaking through the middle of the field. Arnaud beat the offside trap (being held on by Rafael) and dribbled into the box. It appeared that Arnaud may have touched it a bit too far ahead of him, but he beat Ben Amos to the ball and tucked it into the far corner to give KC a surprising 1-0 lead.
KC continued to push the game and should have doubled their lead in the 22nd through Smith. Michael Harrington played a great ball into the box, where Smith had once again lost Rafael (a theme from the game if you can't tell). Smith though scuffed his shot and Amos was able to get down and make the save. There was also a very scary moment for Smith in the first half, as he went down with a non-contact injury to his knee. Watching the replay on the video screen (BTW for those people that attend games at CAB, how nice is it to actually be able to see replays on a video board again?) I thought for sure that Smith had torn his MCL or worse, his ACL. Smith was able to come back in though and continued to play.
In the 30th minute, United had their best chance to equalize up to that point, as Nani got the ball at midfield, was able to beat Shavar Thomas and dribble into the Wizards box. Jimmy Nielsen was quickly off his line though and was able to block Nani's chance. A minute later, Nielsen again made a nice save on Nani, this time off a free kick that Nani headed on towards goal. Nielsen got his finger tips to it and tipped it over the bar. United got their chance for the equalizer in the 41st, after Conrad brought down Berbatov in the box. Conrad didn't get the ball and it was absolutely a penalty, but the red card referee Terry Vaughn handed out seemed harsh, especially in a friendly match. Still, the call stood, and Berbatov, fooled Nielsen and slotted the ball to Nielsen's left as he went right.
Being a man down didn't seem to bother KC too much, as they came right back down the field and found the equalizer through Kamara. Smith played in a corner, and Kamara reached it first, heading it over Amos and onto the cross bar. The ball came down and hit just on the other side of the line. There will be questions of whether the whole ball crossed the line or not, but the goal was given, and KC was probably deservedly on top heading into the half time break.
At half time, KC only made one change, as Eric Kronberg got into the game. Kronberg was tested a lot more than Nielsen was in the first half, as United pressed forward and used the man advantage to their advantage. Kronberg denied Mame Biram Diouf a few times in the half for a few of his 5 saves. KC still got a few chances of their own, as Kamara set up a great opportunity for second half sub, Jack Jewsbury, after a great play down the win. Jewsbury's blast from just inside the box was well saved by Amos. The Wizards sat further and further back though and the chances continued to pile up for United. Wizards forward, Sunil Chhetri came on as a second half sub, but was largely ineffective due to the lone forward role he and the Wizards were playing at the time while a man down. United's chances fell to some of their younger strikers, on as subs. Danny Welbeck had a cross go right off him with an empty net, but over the goal. Then in the 81st, Welbeck played a fantastic ball with the outside of his foot that found Federico Macheda in the box, but his strong header was right at Kronberg and he was able to cover the rebound. KC was able to hold on, to the final whistle and take the friendly 2-1.
Again, this was only a friendly, but the Wizards played a very good game, even a man down. They took the game to United early and controlled the game for long portions in the midfield. And it's not like United's midfield was a totally watered down version, as it contained Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Darren Gibson, and Nani, all 4 have plenty of first team games under their belt. Even Nani was impressed with the way the Wizards played, saying “ It's difficult to compare them directly to Barcelona because they're one of the best teams in the world to play that kind of football, but they play very nice and quick and they passed the ball well like a quality Spanish club. Their style was good.”
Stephane Auvray had a fantastic game shutting down the passing lanes in the middle of the field. The only real faults I can find with the team today was once again the center of defense. Conrad for his red card, even if it was questionable, and Thomas who continues to get beat by pace. I lost track of how many times I saw him go down for a tackle and miss badly. I know a couple times they almost led to goals.
Wizards Man of the Match - Stephane Auvray - Auvray was the midfield engine for KC today, worked his butt off, and helped KC control the midfield against a very strong team. Auvray's good play was also seen by the hole he left when he subbed out for Graham Zusi, who didn't play bad, but him and Auvray just play two different midfield roles.
Honorable Mention - Kei Kamara, Eric Kronberg
Player Ratings - Nielsen 6, Harrington 6, Thomas 4, Conrad 4, Espinoza 6, Arnaud 7, Auvray 9, Rocastle 6, Kamara 8, Bunbury 7, Smith 8. Subs Besler 6, Kronberg 7, Aiyegbusi 5, Chhetri 5, Jewsbury 6, Zusi 5, Myers NR.
Quick Stat - There will be no Monday after stats tomorrow since there won't be a lot of stats to cover, but here's one. The announced attendance for tonight's game, 52,424, was not only the largest crowd in KC soccer history, but is also the largest attendance in Missouri soccer history, topping the mark set by the 2001 World Cup qualifier at Arrowhead against Costa Rica.