When the Sounders FC announced that Manchester United would come to Seattle on their preseason tour to play a friendly at CenturyLink Field, it promised to be a celebration of soccer.
For the most part, the experience delivered on that promise.
Everything from the build up to the match to the excitement in the stadium exceeded the expectations. The first half of the match was a thrill-a-moment 45 minutes of soccer that saw the Sounders have chance after chance to get on the scoreboard, but it was Manchester United’s Michael Owen who had the lone tally, heading home a ball from Patrice Evra in the 15th minute.
The second half was a different story altogether and the match turned from a celebration to a disappointing experience for the Sounders and their fans as Manchester United scored at will on their way to a 7-0 win over the Sounders.
While the end result looked like a cake-walk for the visitors from England - and caused Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid to call it his most embarrassing defeat as a head coach - it was not necessarily indicative of the play on the field.
“They didn’t deserve to lose 7-nil. I think we scored on every chance we had, didn’t we?” said goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard, who played a solid first half and finished with four saves and noted a better club than the one in New England that Manchester topped 4-1 in their first match of the US tour last week. “It was a good team compared to New England. It was a more ball-possession team and had a couple of very good players. It was a positive picture, but the victory was too big, it shows a wrong impression of the game.”
For the Sounders, the first half showed that they can play with Manchester United, but also that they need to finish their chances if they want to even begin to be considered in the same breath as the elite players they were facing.
The attacking group of Mauro Rosales, Fredy Montero, Roger Levesque and Alvaro Fernandez was again strong - as they were against the Colorado Rapids over the weekend - and the midfield of Osvaldo Alonso and Erik Friberg continued to make strides.
“It’s a hard game - they’re Man United, the champions of the Premier League,” Alonso said. “We had the opportunity to score goals and they scored the first half and that’s too bad.”
Legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson even had heavy praise for some of the Sounders from the first half.
“For them, the counter attack was good in the first half. I think Alonso is a good player. I like him. He’s a very clever player who knows how to play midfield. He’s obviously experienced,” Ferguson said. “Rosales we saw on Saturday also and we marked him down as a danger. We noticed how he plays his position. Fernandez did some good things in the first half also.”
Alonso was told of the compliment and was honored with the words.
“He said something about me?” he grinned. “I’m very happy that he said something good about me. I’ll just keep playing the same way and play good for the team. That’s the best thing for us.”
Alonso wasn’t the only one hearing kind words from Manchester United. With a crowd of 67,052 in attendance at CenturyLink Field, it was the largest crowd in northwest soccer history. Many of them were supporting Manchester United, but the vast majority were still cheering on the home team.
It was the culmination of a week that United spent based in Seattle.
“They’re fanatical fans really. I think we witnessed that tonight and we’ve witnessed it all week,” midfielder Ryan Giggs said. “You got told that the Seattle fans are the best in the MLS and I think we witnessed that tonight.”
In the end though, the final result of 7-0 is what those fans were left with.
“I think this one sticks with you. I think it goes as an opportunity that sort of passed us by,” Levesque said. “In an atmosphere like that in front of a city of fans that’s been there for us from day one. I think it was an exciting game - it was back and forth and there were a lot of goals. I just wish there were a few more on our end.”
The Sounders will play the first leg of the preliminary round of the CONCACAF Champions League on Tuesday against the Panamanian club San Francisco before they return to MLS play on July 30 against the Houston Dynamo.
The Sounders have a nine-game unbeaten streak (6-0-3) in MLS play and have not lost in their last 11 matches in all competitions.