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WFC: Fitness first for Manchester United

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney

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Getty Images

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It’s always a good sign when your biggest star is the last to leave the practice field.

For Manchester United fans on hand for the club’s open practice at Gillette Stadium on Tuesday night, that meant that Wayne Rooney signed every last autograph — nearly an hour worth of signatures — before rejoining the rest of the squad waiting on the team bus.

The one-hour practice session, which concluded with a spirited scrimmage that enthralled the roughly 1,500 in attendance, was the Red Devils’ final look at the Gillette Stadium game field 24 hours before they open participation in the World Football Challenge against the New England Revolution (8 pm ET; ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes).

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“Delighted. It’s a fantastic stadium,” Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said following training. “I was here when it was Foxboro [Stadium] back in 1994.

“The pitch is a bit dead because of the way they laid the new turf and it takes time for that to knit. [It] probably could do with a good downpour of rain, actually.”

The installation process of the temporary grass surface began last Thursday and the field was set on Saturday.

More than 50,000 fans are expected on Wednesday, setting a new record for a club exhibition at Gillette Stadium, according to a Revolution spokesperson. The previous mark was set in 2009, when Italian power AC Milan visited and drew 42,500 souls.

Fans what come out on Wednesday will see a Revolution side that currently sits in last place in the Eastern Conference take on the English Premier League champions, who are a week into their preseason. The main story line features Scotland international and Revs manager Steve Nicol matching wits against Ferguson, his former Scotland boss.

“First thing is to get the fitness in our game,” Ferguson responded when asked about the objective of Wednesday’s match for Man. United. “We’re maybe a little bit short in preparation because we’re only six days [into our preseason]. We’ll make that up when we go to Seattle for seven days of training, which should be good.

“And [we want to] get our rhythm and tempo of the game. That’s what we hope for in preseason and at the end of the tour, we should be in good shape.”