Kansas City, Mo. In the aftermath of the Kansas City Wizards’ 2-1 victory over mighty Manchester United, coach Peter Vermes tried to be humble. Central defender Jimmy Conrad did not.
“MLS owns the city of Manchester right now,” crowed Conrad, who was sent off in the 39th minute.
A crowd of 52,342 — largest ever to see a soccer match in Kansas City — watched Davy Arnaud and Kei Kamara score first-half goals and then fend off repeated shots on goal in the second half as the Wizards of the MLS handed the Red Devils their first loss in a four-city tour of the United States.
Manchester City lost to the New York Red Bulls earlier Sunday.
United played without several of its biggest stars, though the Wizards were down to 10 men after Conrad was shown a straight red card for a sliding tackle on Dimitar Berbatov.
“It’s a great accomplishment for our team, for our organization,” Vermes said. “But in the end, it’s an exhibition. And what matters most for us is the league, and trying to win an MLS championship. Look, they’ve played in Champions League finals. We’re not there yet. By any means.”
City officials were hoping a big, enthusiastic crowd, drawn partly to get their first glimpse at Arrowhead Stadium following a $375 million makeover, might also boost chances of hosting World Cup games in 2018 or 2022 — if the U.S gets to host.
“Events like tonight’s where we’re going to have over 50,000 people in the building for a soccer game I think will be a big selling point for both FIFA and U.S. Soccer when it comes time to make the decision on which stadium to bring the World Cup to,” said Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, who lobbied to bring Manchester United to Arrowhead.
With the unexpected win, Hunt and the others got all they wanted and more.
Backup goalkeeper Eric Kronberg replaced Jimmy Nielsen at halftime and made five saves for the Wizards, who have not won an MLS title since 2000 and are 4-8-4 this season.
In the 11th minute, Arnaud beat United’s offside trap and took a well-placed through ball from Kamara. Given the one-on-one against backup keeper Ben Amos, Arnaud dribbled into the penalty area and calmly slotted the ball into the lower left corner.
Berbatov equalized from the penalty spot in the 41st minute after Conrad was ejected for a sliding tackle on him.
Replays appeared to show Conrad made contact with the ball before Berbatov went down, but referee Terry Vaughn went straight for the red card and Berbatov converted with a roller into the lower right corner.
“I know I ended up with every piece of the ball,” Conrad said. “I know I had to go through him a little bit. I tried to sweep it, but I’d have to see it on replay before I could say with 100 percent certainty.”
Manchester Union captain Ryan Giggs said the final score only confirmed what was already evident, that American soccer is on the rise.
“You can see it in the standard of the teams, the standard of the national team, the interest within the crowd and the fans,” he said.
Kamara put the Wizards up in the 42nd minute. He headed Ryan Smith’s corner kick over Amos and off the underside of the crossbar, and the ball landed just over the goal line.
“They’re a big, strong team,” said Red Devils coach Sir Alex Ferguson. “Athletic. Very powerful. I thought once we scored the goal we’d be all right. Too many of our shots were off target.”
Manchester United’s next stop will be a match against the MLS all-stars on Wednesday in Houston.
“The game is improving in the general play of the players,” said Ferguson. “Some United States players are doing well in Europe and in England, and that’s the best barometer.”