CHICAGO — They needed a second-half comeback to do it, but Manchester United remained perfect in the World Football Challenge on Saturday afternoon, defeating the Chicago Fire 3-1 in front of a record crowd at Soldier Field.
Chicago couldn’t hold on to their 1-0 halftime lead, giving up second-half goals to substitutes Wayne Rooney, Rafael da Silva and Nani to fall to the Premier League champs.
The Fire took advantage of Man. United’s reserve-laden starting lineup to take a surprising lead in the 13th minute. Defender Cory Gibbs put the hosts on the board, heading midfielder Marco Pappa’s curling free kick past United debutant 'keeper David de Gea.
Chicago continued pressing after taking the lead, creating another chance in the 24th minute. Pappa collected a ball just inside the Fire’s half and took off down the right wing, eventually cutting through the middle before hitting a low left-footer just wide of the right post from the top of the box.
United winger Gabriel Obertan nearly pulled one back in the 28th, chipping a ball over the head of Chicago left back Gonzalo Segares and running onto it before firing a 15-yard shot just over the bar.
The Fire didn’t stay on the back foot for long, nearly scoring in the 32nd, when forward Cristian Nazarit collected a bouncing ball at the penalty spot and rolled a shot just wide of the left bar.
Fire winger Patrick Nyarko should have made it 2-0 just before the halftime whistle. Segares lost his man on the left flank, playing a square ball to a wide-open at the penalty spot only for the Ghanaian winger to have his shot saved.
Both sides made numerous changes at the half, with Man. United bringing on Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Park Ji-Sung, Johnny Evans and Anderson, and Chicago inserting Baggio Husidic, Orr Barouch, Josip Mikulic and 'keeper Jon Conway.
The Fire kept pressing after the break and should’ve scored again in the 52nd minute. Husidic got on the end of a loose cross at the back post but somehow missed an open net from five yards out.
Chicago came agonizingly close to scoring in the 62nd and 64th minutes, with Pappa hitting the side net with a shot from the top of the 18 before substitute forward Barouch hit a low-left footer off de Gea and then off the left post.
Rooney made Chicago pay for their missed chances in the 66th, collecting a beautiful long ball from defender Rio Ferdinand at the top of the box and chipping the ball over Conway for the equalizer.
Rooney’s goal opened the floodgates for United, who continued pressing before going ahead through Rafael in the 76th minute. The Brazilian fullback rounded Nyarko on the right wing before hitting a close-range shot through Conway’s legs from a tight angle at the near post.
United sealed the match in the 82nd, when Nani took advantage of a mistake by Gibbs to chip Conway from 15 yards out.
Fire interim head coach emptied the bench after Nani’s finish, pulling out his remaining starters and letting some lightly used reserves finish out the match.
United will now head to New York, where they’ll take on the MLS All-Stars on Wednesday evening before concluding their US tour in at FedEx Field outside Washington, D.C., on July 30 Saturday against Barcelona in a World Football Challenge match.
The Fire return to action on Aug. 3, when they’ll host the Philadelphia Union in MLS play at Toyota Park.