A raucous crowd of 44,213 soccer fans were treated to a back-and-forth affair between the Philadelphia Union and Manchester United Wednesday night at Lincoln Financial Field that ended with a 1-0 victory for the visiting United side, with the decisive goal coming from French international Gabriel Obertan. It was another night of exciting soccer in Philadelphia, and among the impressed parties was United's legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
"The atmosphere was good," Ferguson said after the game. "The last time we were here was six years ago and ... there was more of a United atmosphere for us tonight. In the six-year spell since we've been here before, I think there's more of an appreciation of the game from the fans.
"I think there was far more appreciation of what was happening on the football field, and that's an indication that there's progress in American football."
The wide-open friendly featured a slew of scoring chances, if not goals, and was dominated by a dualing pair of budding stars.
Striker Danny Welbeck, one of Manchester United's most promising young talents, delivered the game-winning assist and was a disruptive, dangerous force all night for the Premier League side, constantly forcing the issue with his speed and skill.
The 76th-minute winner was set up when Welbeck intercepted an errant pass in the midfield, streaked up the right side and waited patiently for an opening to slide the ball across to the oncoming Obertan, who calmly finished past Union goalkeeper Brian Perk.
But the assist wasn't Welbeck's only moment of brilliance. In the latter part of the first half, he forced a tough save from Union goalkeeper Brad Knighton from around the penalty spot and almost scored a wonder goal on a volley from far beyond the penalty box that went screaming past the right post. Then, only a minute into the second half, Welbeck volleyed a quickly-taken free kick delivery from inside the box and sent another shot screaming beyond the left post.
On the other side, Welbeck's counterpart, Union striker Danny Mwanga, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 MLB SuperDraft and the first draft pick in Union franchise history, was just as dangerous for the home team. The 19-year-old Oregon State product created a bevy of chances before getting subbed out in the second half.
Mwanga sent a screaming volley over the near-post crossbar in the early going, displayed a deft touch on a Fred cross only to have his shot blocked by defender Jonny Evans and then led a beautiful counter-attack that gave the Union their best chance of the first half.
Receiving the ball on the Union side of the field, Mwanga played a ball to the right wing for Fred, who returned the favor to Mwanga who was streaking up the middle of the field. The rookie then left the ball off to his left for Sebastien Le Toux, one of MLS's leading scorers, who sent his shot low to the far post and just to the right of the post.
While the Union were playing in their hometown, the sea of red at Lincoln Financial Field was apparent as Manchester United are well known to have one of the largest followings in the world. But even though they may have been outnumbered, the Union fans were heard throughout, led by the vocal support of the Sons of Ben.
Much to the fans' delight, longtime United stalwarts Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes were in the starting lineup, alongside notable contributors Jonny Evans and Wes Brown. And Dimitar Berbatov, the superstar Bulgarian striker, came on in the second half and was inches away from a pretty goal when, in his trademark languid style, he stepped over the ball with ease and struck a right-footed shot off the bottom of the crossbar.
The Union's best chance of the second half came off a free kick from midfielder Kyle Nakazawa. Nakazawa sent a floating ball straight into the box where Union captain Danny Califf headed a delicate flick-on towards goal that was brought out an impressive, instinctive save from United's keeper, Tomaz Kuszczak.
United then almost scored a second goal in stoppage time when defender Ritchie De Laet snuck by the defense with only Perk to beat, but the Union keeper came up big and held the opposition to the lone goal.
The match was the second world-class football event at Lincoln Financial Field this summer, following the pre-World Cup friendly between the United States and Turkey in May that drew 68,000 fans and was won 2-1 by the Americans.