Erik Friberg and his Sounders FC teammates will try to enjoy playing Manchester United on Wednesday, but they also have things to prove.
A few years ago Erik Friberg made the pilgrimage that every Manchester United fan feels compelled to take. His father Peter joined him.
They came from their home in Lindome, Sweden, to United’s home, Old Trafford, to see their team beat Portsmouth. They had no choice. If they truly believed in the magic of Man U, if they honestly wanted to call themselves United fans, they had to make this trip.
This was about the religion of soccer. This was their quest to find the perfect pitch.
“It was like going to Mecca,” Sounders FC midfielder Erik Friberg, 24, said after training earlier this week.
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On Wednesday night, in front of about 66,000 fans, Sounders FC will play a friendly that will feel more like a celebration than a game. Manchester United is in town.
It’s almost like the old days when barnstormers would come to the Northwest to give baseball fans their only glimpse of greatness. Substitute Wayne Rooney for Babe Ruth. Ryan Giggs for Ty Cobb.
With the Mariners’ season collapsing and with the ongoing NFL lockout casting doubt on the Seahawks’ preparedness for the regular season, this is a reason for Seattle sports fans to throw a party. It’s a night to see, in person, one of the most storied franchises in sports history.
This is the team the Sounders’ players have watched for years on television. These are the players they’ve seen in Premiership games, Champions League games, in FA Cups and World Cups. This is their chance to test themselves against those same players.
“We have to enjoy, but play seriously,” said Sounders FC midfielder Mauro Rosales, who as a member of Ajax once lost a friendly to Manchester United 1-0. “We are playing against a big team in the world. It’s a friendly game, but our fans are waiting for us to show that we are playing the game and trying to win, not just to have fun and watch United play.”
But those same fans want to see some magic from Man U. They want Rooney to score the kind of jaw-dropping goals Lionel Messi scored here with FC Barcelona two summers ago.
Peter Friberg will be at CenturyLink Field on Wednesday and it may be the only time he cheers against his beloved Red Devils.
“He’s probably going to like United to win,” his son Erik said, then reconsidered his answer. “No, not this game.”
Manchester United’s appeal is global. Its fan base stretches from El Salvador to the United Arab Emirates; from Indonesia to Argentina. It makes Red Sox Nation look as parochial as the local Lions Club.
Almost every player in the game wants the chance to play where David Beckham and Paul Scholes and Cristiano Ronaldo played.
And this night is a chance for Fredy Montero or Ozzie Alonso, or some other young Sounders FC player to audition in front of United’s fabled coach Sir Alex Ferguson. It’s a casting call. Do something special against Man U and maybe you will be invited to train with them in the fall or winter.
“It’s probably the best team in the world and it’s going to be a tough game,” Friberg said. “Of course, it’s important to show this (MLS) is a good league, too.”
For the Sounders. there has to be some MLS pride involved. On this tour, Manchester United already had its way against the New England Revolution, winning 4-1. Seattle wants to play more competitively than the Revolution did against United or the Los Angeles Galaxy did in Saturday’s 4-1 loss to Real Madrid. The world will be watching.
“It’s one of those things where we want to come out and show that we can play an entertaining game of soccer and can play against the best and compete,” Sounders FC striker Roger Levesque said. “We want to show that soccer is heading in the right direction.”
Celebrate the game and its continued slow growth in this country.
“The main thing (for the Sounders) is just enjoy yourself,” said Sounders FC veteran Kasey Keller, who as Leicester City’s goalkeeper shut out United 1-0 at Old Trafford a little more than a decade ago. “At the same time, don’t go run around and kick somebody. Just go and have a good competitive game, but understand what it is.”
After the game, Sounders FC players will ask the United players for their jerseys.
“I’m going to try to get every one,” Friberg said.
This will be a night when even the players will be fans.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org