FOXBORO, MA - JULY 13: Wayne Rooney #10 of the Manchester United brings the ball down field against the New England Revolution defends during a friendly match at Gillette Stadium on July 13, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
While the result does not matter, it will certainly be a spectacle as one of the best teams in the world host Manchester United. Wait, sorry, as one of the best teams in the world comes to Seattle to play against the Sounders. This game will not be broken down tactically, as the point Wednesday night will not be to win, but first to not get hurt and second to see some unique players showcase their skills. The Busby Babe covers United here on www.sbnation.com and oddly enough, their manager's second favorite team, and local team, are the Seattle Sounders.
SaH: For United this is both a training game, and an ability to spread the brand. Which is more important for the organization?
tBB: I would anticipate that my opinion to this as a Manchester United supporter would be in the minority, but I feel that the training is more important - especially with the need to acclimate the newcomers. The club has toured the United States a handful of times now in the past decade and if anything, the exposure helps maintain the brand more than significantly growing it. Perhaps United will pick up a few casual fans or at least lend themselves visible to someone who is curious about the club and/or the English Premier League, but I think the tour is more about making money and bringing themselves to the pockets of supporters that they have around the world. I could be entirely wrong though.
I think the United players may be a bit surprised on Wednesday evening. Last week's friendly against the Revs was a pro-United crowd and it's generally been that way no matter where they've traveled on these sort of tours. There will certainly be a good chunk of red visible at the stadium, but I think the United players and staff will be impressed and actually enjoy that the crowd will be pro-Sounders. I think the novelty of these friendlies here is not quite what it might be in other cities (#TrophiesNotFriendlies), but hopefully it is an enjoyable event still for Sounders supporters.
SaH: What were the most significant changes since the UEFA Champions League game?
tBB: Since the UCL final, the most significant loss is Edwin van der Sar to retirement. Despite being 40 years old, the Dutchman was arguably the best goalkeeper in Europe last season. After Peter Schmeichel's retirement in 1999, it took six agonizing seasons, when van der Sar finally came on, to find stability between the posts. Over the summer, United bought David De Gea and because he's presumed to the be the new No 1, he is the most significant addition thus far during the current transfer window. The 20-year-old has enormous gloves to fill in replacing van der Sar, a player who he is actually compared to quite often - hence, the nickname "van der Gea" he was given at Atletico Madrid by his former teammates. Despite his undeniable talent, and even with his recent success by winning the Europa League in 2010 and the U-21 European Championships a few weeks ago with Spain, questions remain whether he can handle the pressure at such a young age.
The retirement of the legendary Paul Scholes is a significant one as well - perhaps more symbolically though since he was merely a squad player for the recent title run-in. Much has been made about finding the "Scholes replacement" and quite simply, there is no replacing him - at least in a like-for-like sense. United have been linked with players like Wesley Sniejder, Samir Nasri, Luka Modric, amongst others of similar ilk - If the club brings in another player during the current transfer window, it will most certainly be a central player that can be a creative force.
The other two additions thus far this summer have been Phil Jones and Ashley Young. The former is a U-21 international for England and he, along with Chris Smalling, are being groomed as the eventual successors to Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand at center-back. Young is an established player in the Premier League and he's actually been the one bright spot for England's national team in the past 6 months or so. He will offer valuable versatility during the upcoming campaign by providing width on either flank or by playing in the hole behind a lead striker.
SaH: Which United player are you most excited to see here?
tBB: The player that I most eagerly anticipate seeing is Park Ji-sung. I've spent my entire life living in Western Washington, but being of Korean heritage, I instantly fell for the midfielder during the 2002 FIFA World Cup when he helped that South Korean side reach the semi-final. His goal versus Portugal during the group stages even sent the United States through to the knock-out stages. When he joined United in 2005, I was elated but I was quite annoyed with the notion that he had been signed so that he could sell shirts in Asia. During his six years of service to the club, he has been vital to United's success and this is evident by his selection into the lineup by manager Sir Alex Ferguson for nearly every big match. Park is a tactical swiss-army knife - combine this with his industry, humble attitude, and knack for scoring in big matches - the Korean has won over nearly every United supporter. My appreciation for Park perhaps rivals #ChurchofFucito .... or perhaps not.
The other player who I am incredibly excited to see is the real-life Benjamin Button, 37-year-old Ryan Giggs. The Welshman is one of the greatest players in the game's history and he was still tearing apart Europe this past Spring during United's Champions League run. He simply may be the greatest player in the Premier League's history. It will be an absolute treat to see him on Wednesday night.
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tBB: Two seasons ago, during the Seattle Sounders FC inaugural season in Major League Soccer (MLS), the club was able to bring over Chelsea FC and FC Barcelona for friendlies. However, the club is currently involved in three competitions (MLS, CONCACAF Champions League, and U.S. Open Cup) - how is this friendly with United being viewed by Sounders' supporters? In the Seattle region specifically, has the novelty of these friendlies, even one with a club that just participated in the UEFA Champions League final, worn off? Is this viewpoint different between hardcore supporters and the casual fan?
SaH: Most supporters probably aren't terribly excited for the game in light of the fixture congestion. They may enjoy the opportunity to see one of the five best teams in the world live, in stadium with the temporary grass, but they know it is meaningless. The number one wish is that no one get injured, particularly in a season with three trophies ripe and readily available.
The general public and the casuals may be a bit more excited. I know that United players are getting recognized around town, and that tickets for this game are quite popular. Wednesday night will be a fun party and celebration of high level soccer, but the atmosphere will be quite muted compared to normal. It's a shame that those around the world who love United won't see Seattle's standard experience, but this audience knows which games matter. This isn't one of them.
tBB: The Sounders are in terrific form right now having gone unbeaten in their past 11 matches in all competitions. During this time, the attack has surged and they seemingly may be the top side in the MLS based on current form. Which players should United supporters be on the lookout for in terms of quality? Players like Kasey Keller and Mauro Rosales have played in top-flight leagues in Europe but which younger players may potentially capture the attention of European clubs in the near future? Perhaps that is an annoying question but I ask because players like Osvaldo Alonso and Steve Zakuani spent some time last winter training with Everton FC.
SaH: MLS fans know that their best players will move on to better leagues. It is the way of things. Even the most ardent of us just hope for the day that MLS is the final step before a huge league and not Scandinavia, the Lowlands or lower divisions. If you asked me this question at the beginning of the year I would have said that Seattle has four players who are clearly of better quality who belong on a bigger stage - Steve Zakuani, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Fredy Montero and Osvaldo Alonso.
Zakuani came up through the Arsenal youth system but a tragic accident saw him pushed aside to college here. Over his first two years in the USA as a pro he quickly became the best left winger in the league and it was clear he would last too long. Then, agains the Colorado Rapids, his leg was snapped and now his future is unclear. Hurtado just suffered a minor tweak to his right knee and may not play either.
The other two are just downright amazing. Montero has that ability to take threatening shots from nearly anywhere, regardless of the amount of pressure or traffic. His ability to strike the ball on a set-peice is a game changer in any league. He's a second striker with good on-ball technique and when he improves his off-ball runs will be a strong candidate to move up leagues. Alonso is a defensive midfielder who will win the ball from anyone. His ability to control the middle is not through just strength (he's kind of small), but through slipping his feet in taking the ball he feels is rightfully his at all times. His passing continues to improve and his long range shots are starting to stay down and threaten.
tBB: Are there any particular United players that interest you? Any that you're particularly excited to see on Wednesday?
SaH: I don't watch much European football. I have a local side that plays well within their league and represents my community well. Games that have stuck in my memory are the Tottenham Hotspurs Carling Cup win as I watched it with a Londoner who had moved out here. Due to that I will pay a little more attention to Dimitar Berbatov than Wayne Rooney. I've also always been intrigued by Asian players who head to the top leagues in Europe, so Park Ji-Sung will be fun to get a look at.
And of course the ageless one, just because of that and no other reason. That Ryan Giggs is a quality outfield player at his age is just down right impressive.
There will be no lineup card, as the lineup will change often.