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Soccer titans clash in Arizona

By Jose Romero - Jul 19, 2018

There may come a time in the preseason when Manchester United fields a team full of notable Russia World Cup names. 

July 19 was too soon for that, but more than 37,000 soccer fans in Arizona on Thursday got treated to a friendly match between two highly successful clubs, the Red Devils from England and Club America, the sort of New York Yankees of Mexico. 

The result was a fair 1-1 draw, with moments of excitement for both squads and something to cheer about for fans of both teams.

Man U was missing Belgium stars Marouane Fellaini and Romelu Lukaku, England's Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford qand Ashley Young, Argentina's Marcos Rojo and Sergio Romero and the champion, Paul Pogba of France. But such is the depth of an expensive roster that they were able to field a competitive roster of a lot of lesser known players still weeks away from the English Premier League season, against the Mexican giants who were nearing an end to their tour of the U.S. while United's was only just starting. 

America muddled through the first half but showed it was the sharper team in the second, when Henry Martin headed in a pass into the box from Antonio Lopez in the 60th minute. 

That set the already active La Monumental supporters into more of a frenzy, and soon, The Wave, the ancient fan tradition, rippled through University of Phoenix Stadium.

But everything changed later in the half when Spaniard Juan Mata scored for Manchester United, and the former national teamer was named Man of the Match.

America coach Miguel Herrera said battling a three-time UEFA Champions League winner to a draw, regardless of who was playing, was an accomplishment. Meanwhile, America fans from California sang and chanted in the concourses of the stadium. 

In the U.S. Southwest, Mexican teams have large fan bases and Thursday was no different, with Club America drawing thousands of yellow-shirted supporters to the home of the Arizona Cardinals. Manchester United is recognized around the world, which made for better drawing power. 

Much of the lower bowl of the 63,400-seat stadium was filled, but the upper deck was empty. 

America is less than a week away from opening up the Apertura season in Liga MX, so its roster contained more regulars. And their fans were in full throat, even offering up the controversial "Ehhhhh.... Puto!!!!" chant for Man U goal kicks. 

Crowds in other towns might have been larger, but this was a mid-week game in the Arizona summer in an American market without a Major League Soccer team. If MLS folks were watching, local soccer fans can only hope that they were impresssed, as Phoenix is aiming for an expansion bid. 

It makes one think about the possibilities -- should Phoenix ever get an MLS franchise, could the team invite a foreign team to town for a friendly, and what would that be like to play a match at an NFL stadium against a club like Chivas of Mexico or even a Valencia (Spain) or Benfica (Portugal)? 

When games like Man United-Club America come to town, true soccer enthusiasts will go. Phoenix fans should have felt fortunate for such an opportunity, and judging by the attendance, they were willing to take advantage of a chance to see the game at (or close to) its highest level. With Major League Soccer's presence one day, hopefully that this can be a more frequent reality.

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