Ferguson predicts U.S. success
NEW YORK -- Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson paused for a moment, pondering the question, before smiling.
Of course, this inquiry was loaded: Who will Ferguson be rooting for when the U.S. faces England in its World Cup opener on June 12 in South Africa?
"Oh, Scotland," said the Glasgow native, still laughing. "The Scots are the world champions."
Translation: Sir Alex isn't touching that one. However, Ferguson was open about the American game, among other things, during a gathering at the W Hotel on the Lower East Side on Tuesday to promote the Red Devils' North American tour this summer.
Said Sir Alex: Book it, the U.S. will advance out of Group C, which also includes Slovenia and Algeria, and into the knockout stage at next month's World Cup. The Americans flamed out in pool play four summers ago, going 0-2-1.
Still, Ferguson told Soccernet after his press engagement, a run to glory in South America by the Americans might be asking too much.
"I think the challenge for the U.S. is to get beyond the group stage, that's an achievement," Ferguson said. "Anything after that is a bonus, you know."
Before members of Sam's Army jump ugly on Ferguson, he was complimentary of the U.S. side.
"We always expect [the U.S] to be athletic," Ferguson said. "You always expect them to have that winning appetite about them. I think that's inbred in them. When you play against a team with good winning habits, and you play against good teams with good athleticism, good organizational skills, you find it difficult."
As for the U.S.'s showdown with England, Ferguson predicted: "I think [the U.S.] will find it very difficult. It's a hard game for them to start with, because England will be very, very motivated. Of course, [England] will have issues with who they are going to start, but they will be very, very difficult to beat. But if they can survive after that in terms of the next two matches, they have a very, very good chance of qualifying. As a matter of fact, I think they will qualify."
Ferguson singled out Landon Donovan, who had a successful stint on loan with Everton in the Premier League earlier this year, as a favorite American to watch. Ferguson also complimented Fulham's Clint Dempsey and his former charge, goalkeeper Tim Howard, now with Everton. "Landon Donovan will feature well for the U.S.," Ferguson told Soccernet.
Earlier, Fergie said of the Americans: "They've proved themselves in previous World Cups. With Donovan and Dempsey, they've got some experience. They've been there before. It's not as if it's new to them," he said. "So I don't think they will be overawed by anything, or the atmosphere of the World Cup or the importance of the World Cup or the intensity. I think that will be easy for them."
Manchester United, the 18-time English champion, begins its preseason tour on July 12 -- the day after the World Cup final. After a training camp in Chicago, the Red Devils take on Celtic at Rogers Center in Toronto on July 16. Five days later, Ferguson's side meets up with the Philadelphia Union at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Kansas City Wizards get their shot at Manchester United at Arrowhead Stadium on July 25 and Ferguson's squad finishes up against the MLS All-Stars on July 28 in Houston. United then hits Mexico for an exhibition on July 30 at Chivas' new 45,000-seat stadium in Guadalajara -- part of the agreement to acquire striker Javier Hernandez in April.
While it isn't the FA Cup, Ferguson said he's looking forward to playing the MLS All-Stars, which are 5-0-1 against international opponents. Everton played the MLS All-Stars to a 1-1 tie last season at Rio Tinto Stadium in Utah, with the Blues winning 4-3 on penalty kicks, behind a lights-out performance by Howard.
Manchester United might not be bringing its A team stateside -- Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand are out -- but MLS players are already excited about the prospect of facing the visitors from Old Trafford. Headliners for United will include Ryan Giggs, Michael Owen, John O'Shea, Edwin van der Sar, Dimitar Berbatov and Frederico Macheda.
"To play against Manchester United would be pretty amazing," said Houston midfielder Brad Davis, an MLS All-Star last season. "It would be like a dream come true. I grew up as a big fan of David Beckham when he played for them. As a pro, you have goals, you want to play the best. If you don't want to play a team like Manchester United, you have a problem."
After coming up short in their quest for championships in the Premier League, the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League this season, the Red Devils hope to be ready for another run after the North American tour. Ferguson believes that America's top young talent should be sent overseas to develop their games. That's not a slight, that's just the way it is.
Still, Sir Alex thinks enough of American soccer that he's banking on, in part, that MLS teams will prepare his proud side for what it hopes is redemption across the pond.
For upstart American soccer, that's a pretty nice compliment.
"We will be taking it serious," Ferguson said. "At that particular time, we have to get the show on the road. Our concentration, our tempo, our rhythm of the game, have to be found quickly, after the disappointment of last season. Hopefully, you will see us at our very best."
Justin Rodriguez covers soccer for ESPNsoccernet. He is the soccer writer for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., and can be reached at email@example.com.