Manchester United kick off their five-match tour of the United States and start the Herbalife World Football Challenge by squaring off against the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday night (8 pm ET; ESPN2, ESPN Deportes).
The match serves as United's first foray back onto the field after their UEFA Champions League final defeat to FC Barcelona at the end of May, but the most pressing story line in this particular encounter involves the reunion of two members of the Scotland delegation to the 1986 FIFA World Cup: former manager Sir Alex Ferguson and ex-defender Steve Nicol.
Nicol can't afford to ponder comings and goings as he attempts to devise a way to haul the Revs out of the Eastern Conference cellar as the second half of the MLS season begins.
The first step toward recovery could involve a positive display against a United side still finding their legs after kicking off their preseason regimen last week. A committed and determined performance against the Premier League champs would go a long way toward generating some much needed momentum ahead of Sunday's critical league date against the Philadelphia Union.
Ryan Cochrane and Shalrie Joseph will miss out against the Union through suspension and could provide some continuity against the Red Devils. Nicol must ring the changes early and often to avoid fatigue with a league match four days later, but the Revs will want to put on a decent showing for the large crowd expected at Gillette Stadium.
Ferguson must start to mold his revamped squad in the wake of a handful of key departures and the introduction of a few fresh faces during the brief close season as United start on their quest to acquire their 20th league title. But the first step on that journey involves obtaining the proper match fitness on United's second American tour in as many years.
The departure of midfielder Paul Scholes creates the biggest void because, as Ferguson said during his press conference in Boston on Monday, there is no direct replacement for a player of Scholes' class and ingenuity.
Ferguson intimated that potential target Samir Nasri won't join the club from Arsenal, but he is expected to add one more player to his squad — Inter Milan schemer Wesley Sneijder remains a top target, according to British reports — to attempt to fill the void. Edwin van der Sar's retirement also leaves a significant void between the sticks, while the departures of regular squad members Wes Brown and John O'Shea create vacancies for younger players in defense.
Although Ferguson has yet to strengthen the creative department, he will want to throw his new faces into the mix as soon as possible to hasten their transition. England winger Ashley Young joined from Aston Villa to add even more pace and trickery in the wide areas, while former Atlético Madrid goalkeeper David de Gea is expected to assume the No. 1 shirt from the dependable van der Sar. England U-21 center back Phil Jones adds depth to the defensive areas with Chris Smalling also bolstered by the new deal presented to him earlier this summer.
New England: Shalrie Joseph
The dreadlocked midfield marshal will likely go all 90 minutes, and he’ll probably have his hands full the entire time. Not only will he have to help fend off attackers like Wayne Rooney, Nani and Anderson, he’ll also likely be relied on for offense — he leads the Revs with five goals thus far this season.
Manchester United: Dimitar Berbatov
After being supplanted by Mexican golden boy Javier “Chicharito” Hernández for most of the second half of last year’s campaign, the 2010-11 EPL top scorer is eager to win back Ferguson’s good graces. What better way than by scoring lots of goals?