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WFC: Competition for striker heats up for Man. United

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — His team may have won 4-1, but Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has a major “headache” to handle.

After the Red Devils’ opening victory against the New England Revolution in the World Football Challenge on Wednesday night, two more forwards made a strong case to be considered for regular playing time. With their performance and their goals, veteran scorer Michael Owen and youngster Federico Macheda have raised the stakes in the competition at striker, and in the process, they’ve made Ferguson’s job that much tougher.

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“That’s going to be a headache for me,” Ferguson said in his postgame press conference. “Having Mame Diouf back and Macheda back, its’ going to be picking from six strikers, which is not a bad thing. But sometimes it can be a confusing aspect of the team choices.”

The headaches for Ferguson date back to last year, when first-year Manchester United player Javier “Chicharito” Hernández unseated 2008 big-money signing Dimitar Berbatov for the featured striker spot. With Chicharito at the target spot, England star Wayne Rooney moved to a more withdrawn position and Owen rarely saw the field.

“I think the problem for Michael last year – and the same is applied to other strikers, Berbatov in particular – was that the form of Chicharito was just too good and you couldn’t leave him out.”

But on Wednesday night, with Chicharito away on extended holiday due to his participation with Mexico in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the spotlight was focused on Macheda, the second-half substitute who scored goals in the 54th and 61st minutes to put the result out of reach for New England.

“You saw Macheda’s finishes today – they were first class,” Ferguson said. “He’s got something special at 19 years of age. I still have great hopes for him.”

The native of Rome, Italy, who made a name for himself among Red Devils supporters with his dream debut goal to win a match against Aston Villa, also scored twice in the MLS All-Star Game last year to earn MVP honors. But that preseason performance did him little good, as United sent the Italian on a six-month loan spell to Sampdoria, which would suffer a shock relegation from Italy’s Serie A.

Macheda is now focused on making sure that the defending English Premier League champions don’t ever have to consider another loan deal before his contract expires in 2014.

“Rooney and Berba and Chicharito and Michael Owen all [have] great experience,” Macheda said after the match. “I’m trying to do my best. I don’t think about it if I’m as good as them; I think they’re great and I have to become great. They are very, very good players. But if the boss would give me the chance, I’d take it.”

Those chances begin with four more preseason matches in the USA. The next one is on tap for Wednesday, July 20, on the opposite coast against the Seattle Sounders. The battle among the six strikers to curry favor with Ferguson and jockey for positions at forward will be a common thread for the next month.

“It’s exciting,” Rooney said. “Everybody needs to be at the top of their game to get a place on the team.”