July 26, 2011

NEW YORK -- Two weeks into its summer tour of America, Manchester United has been on a roll. In its three matches against MLS sides, the storied English club has outscored its opponents 14-2, recorded 11 more shots on target, and controlled an average of 57 percent of the possession.

But manager Sir Alex Ferguson said that the lopsided scorelines have flattered his team's play and he has even higher expectations for Wednesday's match against the MLS All-Stars at Red Bull Arena (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2/Galavision).

"We're at the stage where the games have gotten more serious," Ferguson said, the first words out of his mouth at Monday's news conference.

Each side, after all, has something at stake in the exhibition match. For Man United there is the pressure to impress its legions of fans, as well as to prepare for the upcoming opening to the nine-month long English Premier League season.

And while MLS players emphasize the "friendly" part of this game, four-time All Star Bobby Convey echoed the idea that players should be taking it seriously.

"[As an MLS player] you have to do well," the Earthquakes midfielder said after a light workout on Monday. "As much as people don't want to say it, [the game] is a showpiece for MLS, to show how we can play against English teams."

The Galaxy's David Beckham, who will be playing for MLS against his former club, understands this too.

"Manchester United players don't come over here just for a holiday and just to have a nice run around the field," Beckham said. "They come here to win. ... We're well aware of that."

At first glance, Wednesday's game threatens to be a repeat of last year's All-Star Game, where the MLS squad was dismantled 5-2 in Houston.

Yet that match was played between two squads whose rosters were much different -- and less star-studded -- from what they will be on Wednesday.

United's Wayne Rooney will be in the lineup, for one. So too will Park Ji-Sung, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra, all of whom took time off last summer after competing in the World Cup. No longer a fresh-faced striker like he was last summer, budding superstar Javier Hernandez will also be on-hand, although Ferguson hinted on Monday that the Mexican may not get much playing time so that he can continue to rest in the aftermath of the Gold Cup.

The 2011 All-Star squad, meanwhile, hardly resembles last year's team. Of 2010's 23 All-Stars, just four of them will be in uniform to play tomorrow. Most notable of the 2011 additions are Beckham and Thierry Henry, who have both had successful campaigns. Beckham is currently second in the league with eight assists, while Henry leads MLS with 11 goals and is one of the front-runners for the 2011 MLS MVP award.

The spotlight will especially be shining on Henry, who is the Red Bulls' marquee player and will be playing in front of the home crowd in Harrison, New Jersey.

Individual tickets to the game sold out more than a month ago and while MLS Commissioner Don Garber told the New Jersey Star-Ledger he knew the league could have made more money by holding the event at a larger venue such as New Meadowlands Stadium, he gave it to the 25,000-person capacity Red Bull Arena as a "thank you" for Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz having invested in the new stadium.

New York forward Juan Agudelo said that he looks forward to showing off the arena to Manchester United.

"I thought it was good that it is at Red Bull Arena," the first-time All Star said. "Red Bull Arena is beautiful. It is brand new. I think that they did it so that Manchester United will be amazed. I feel they will really love to play there."

Agudelo, whose selection by the Commissioner surprised some, said he will be using the game as an opportunity to observe and learn from his opponents' play.

"I always watch [Rooney and see] how composed he is on the ball and his knack for scoring," he said. "You can learn so much from just seeing them on the pitch and playing against them."

If the team is to get a result against United, Convey said it'll have work better together, something last year's team struggled with because of a lack of time to prepare for the game.

This year, the players' arrivals were less rushed, but All Star -- and Red Bulls -- manager Hans Backs said that in the end the team will have time for a minimal run-through of the "basics."

"It is difficult with so many guys coming in for a short period of time," Rapids forward Omar Cummings said. "Man U is a team that has done well for so many years. They have their unit. For us to come together and do well, I think it would be a plus. I think we have the quality and we will just see how the game flows."

Note: The MLS All-Stars have a 5-2 all-time record against foreign clubs, but have lost the last two contests, including a 1-1 loss on penalty kicks to Everton in 2009.

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