Sir Alex Ferguson was not preoccupied with Manchester United’s first-ever loss on tour in North America. In fact, he barely mentioned it.
“It was a competitive game and a good atmosphere,” Ferguson told reporters following a surprising 2-1 Kansas City victory in front of 52,424 fans at Arrowhead Stadium. “The stadium was terrific. The pitch was good. I don’t really have any complaints.”
Well, that wasn’t entirely true.
Ferguson went on to bemoan United’s shaky finishing and lack of rhythm in possession, but only after complimenting the Wizards' commitment, athleticism, and resolve in earning a historic victory while playing more than a half down a man.
“My experience in the games so far, they are very committed, the American players, and they are very athletic,” Ferguson said. “It’s a big game for them. They are playing Manchester United, and you have to expect that that kind of motivation means they’re going to get stuck in.”
In fact, it was that mentality that led to Davy Arnaud’s opening goal. Arnaud stole the ball and completed an impressive one-two with Kei Kamara before beating the offside trap and finishing past goalkeeper Ben Amos.
Rafael appeared to keep the Wizards captain onside, and Ferguson said the young back line, which included Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans, and Ritchie De Laet alongside the young Brazilian fullback, struggled to regain its confidence after the shaky start.
“I thought that the inexperience of the defenders showed itself the first 15 minutes of the match,” he said. “Never quite recovered from that until the second half. That was a bit of a handicap.”
Another driving factor in the Scotsman’s mind was the play of rookie Teal Bunbury, whose pace, strength and power frustrated Smalling and Evans in the center of the field while Ryan Smith and Kamara provided attacking impetus on the wings.
Like Philadelphia Union midfielder Andrew Jacobson on Wednesday, Ferguson singled the young striker out for extra praise, even if he had a hard time remembering Bunbury’s name.
“In fairness, the center forward was a handful physically,” Ferguson said. “Handful. He gave us a hard time that way.”
Realistically, so did the rest of the squad—even after Jimmy Conrad was ejected late in the first half. And that same type of physical prowess dragged the Wizards back into the lead when Kamara’s controversial header beat Ben Amos but did not appear to cross the goal line.
The confidence that goal instilled also helped Kansas City hold on to its tenuous lead until the final whistle as United pushed forward in search of the tying goal.
“They get the goal right away, so it gave them something to hold on to in the second half,” Ferguson said. “And they hang on well really. Of course, we had a few chances, but that is to be expected.”
Frankly, what wasn’t expected was the result.
Still, it was another 90 minutes in the book for United, who play the MLS All-Stars in Houston on Wednesday before swinging through Mexico for a friendly against Chivas Guadalajara.
And like Sunday's record-setting match in Kansas City, it will be just another stop in a North American tour that has given yet another boost to the gradual growth of soccer in the United States.
“When we came here the last time, it wasn’t nearly as big as it is today,” Ferguson said. “So there is a general improvement, but there are big strides to make. I think 10 years from now you’ll see better results.”