Wizards stun Manchester United, 2-1
A crowd of 52,424 — the largest to witness a soccer game in Kansas City history — saw the hometown Wizards shock English powerhouse Manchester United, 2-1, on Sunday evening at Arrowhead Stadium.
It was arguably the biggest victory in club history, and the Wizards accomplished the feat while playing more than half of the game a man down.
“It was definitely a big game for our organization," said Wizards coach Peter Vermes. "Having the opportunity to play Manchester United, arguably the best club team in the world, was a huge accomplishment for the Kansas City area. It was tremendous to have 50,000 fans show their support at this game. I am extremely proud of the team for how they played during the game. To have the courage and competitive drive to stay ahead for 55 minutes while a man down was big.”
Wizards striker Kei Kamara scored the game-winning goal on a header in the 42nd minute and added an assist on Davy Arnaud’s goal in the 11th minute to lead Kansas City to the highly entertaining upset in the internationally-televised friendly.
The opening 45 minutes was an action-packed display of soccer as both teams attacked early and often. Kansas City threatened first in the sixth minute, as winger Ryan Smith sent in a dangerous cross to striker Teal Bunbury who turned at the top of the six yard box but couldn’t get his shot off in time. United responded four minutes later as Paul Scholes tried a long-distance volley that was pushed away by Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen.
The Wizards broke through in the 11th minute as Kamara received a pass from Bunbury and sent a first-time through ball to Arnaud streaking into the United penalty area as the crowd came to its feet. The Kansas City captain dribbled in with his sight set on goal and calmly slotted a shot past outrushing Manchester United goalkeeper Ben Amos and inside the far post to give the Wizards a 1-0 advantage.
With the momentum, Kansas City continued its attacking style and nearly doubled its lead in the 22nd minute. Outside back Michael Harrington delivered a curving cross onto the foot of Smith, who snuck inside his mark but didn’t have enough on his shot to put it past Amos.
United, one of the richest and most popular clubs in the world, took its turn to attack in the back-and-forth half, as Nani twice had opportunities to equalize. In the 30th minute, the Portuguese international eluded Roger Espinoza’s challenge for a loose ball and found himself free on the right side, but Nielsen did well to cut down the angle and block the close-range shot with his body. Two minutes later, Nielsen again thwarted Nani, this time with an acrobatic, fingertip save on a header aimed just under the crossbar.
Kamara again acted the part of playmaker in the 38th minute with a well-timed through ball for Bunbury on the right side. The rookie tested Amos from an acute angle and earned a corner as the United netminder deflected it wide, one of nine saves forced on the night.
The run of play took a turn in the 39th minute when United’s Dimitar Berbatov worked his way into the Kansas City penalty area and was brought down by Jimmy Conrad on a close challenge. Conrad was given a red card and sent off, and Berbatov converted the ensuing penalty kick to Nielsen’s left to draw United even in the 41st minute.
Despite being a man down, the Wizards wasted no time in regaining the lead as the club capitalized on a corner kick in the 42nd minute. Kamara won a header over United defender Ritchie De Laet and powered it off the underside of the crossbar and just over the goalline before tearing off his jersey in celebration of the eventual match winner. Smith, who ranks sixth in MLS with six assists this season, earned the assist for his driven corner kick on the play.
Manchester United had the last chance of the half when Ryan Giggs collected a header inside the penalty area, but Nielsen made his third and final stop with a foot save to send the Wizards into the halftime break to a standing ovation from the record crowd.
Eric Kronberg replaced Nielsen in goal to start the second half and was immediately called into action to prevent Mame Biram Diouf who slipped in behind the Wizards defense. Kronberg again denied Diouf in the 66th minute, before the Kansas City attack asserted itself with two promising scoring opportunities of its own.
Wizards midfielder Stephane Auvray lined up a shot from 20 yards out in the 68th minute that went narrowly over. Then Kamara dribbled down the right sideline before feeding second half substitute Jack Jewsbury, who fired his shot towards the far top corner but Amos made a diving save.
United pressed forward looking for the equalizer and came close in the 82nd minute, as Tom Cleverley connected on a diving header less than six yards from goal, but Kronberg was again positioned well to maintain the Kansas City margin. Kronberg finished the night with five saves in his only appearance with the first-team since the U.S. Open Cup play-in match on April 13.
Kansas City outshot United 19-15 in the victory, including an 11-9 edge in shots on goal.
Aside from the action on the field, the record-breaking crowd showcased the first event held in the newly renovated Arrowhead Stadium. In addition to setting a new Kansas City soccer record, ticket sales surpassed the turnout for both of Manchester United’s previous two stops on their 2010 North American Tour.
United defeated Scottish club Celtic FC 3-1 in Toronto in front of 39,139 at the Rogers Centre and topped the Philadelphia Union 1-0 with 44,213 in attendance at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Wizards return to MLS play at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 31, against Toronto FC at CommunityAmerica Ballpark. Tickets are available by calling 888-4KC-GOAL or online at www.kcwizards.com.