There's never been a bigger soccer game played in Kansas City, or the midwest of the United States for that matter, than this Sunday's friendly between our Kansas City Wizards and English Premier League giants, and the biggest sports club in the world, Manchester United. It's going to be a lot of fun and will hopefully go a long way to drawing new fans into the sport of soccer, and the Wizards specifically.
That's all well, but let's be honest about what this game really is. It's a friendly and an exhibition that means nothing in the MLS standings, or a SuperLiga group, or even a Champions League clash. That's not to say, though, that there isn't a world of gain to be had from it by some individual players on each side. The game in KC will mark the halfway point of United's North American preseason tour. The gain for their players is obvious - fitness for the coming season and perhaps a place in Sir Alex Ferguson's squad.
However, there are a handful of Wizards players that, at this respective point in their soccer careers, can do a world of good for themselves against a club with the clout of a Manchester United. The world, literally, will be watching and a few guys have a chance to make a name for themselves.
We can fully confirm that Sunil Chhetri, in fact, does exist and that he's not a made-up boy by Wizards PR to infiltrate the Indian population.
After seeing a grand total of only 45 minutes in a US Open Cup game back in early April, one can't help but question the merit of all the hype surrounding Chhetri and his move from the Indian League to MLS. Reports out of practice these days are that he's strictly a one way player and offers little assistance when the ball is lost. I'm fine with that if he's on the field with Kei Kamara, who is very good at tracking back and helping win the ball back in the midfield. Same goes for Ryan Smith.
On the television broadcast Saturday against Colorado, Robb Heineman announced that Chhetri would be given an opportunity to log some minutes Sunday against United and try to impress upon coach Peter Vermes to earn himself some playing time in the final 14 games of the league season. If Chhetri were to be given such a chance against a giant side like United, now is the time to do so. United will be without both regular starting center halves, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.
Not many know much about Chhetri, so there really isn't a whole lot to say about him. If he fails to perform Sunday, fairly or not, he may be the one moved for the impending signing of Mexican striker Omar Bravo.
Michael Harrington and Ryan Smith could, with good showings, put their names into the mix for future USMNT caps.
Smith is from England. I know that. He has American eligibility in regards to FIFA competitions, though. He said so himself on 810 Sports Radio earlier this year, and also hinted that there could be real interest on his part. Chances are he's never going to crack the England squad. They've got Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon, both of whom not only play the same game as Smith, but all three could pass for brothers. If Smith ever wants to enter the world of international football, his best, and probably only chance to do so will be with the United States.
A nationally acclaimed game against such an opponent would be the ideal time for each to make their case. Although, if you ask me, Harrington was absolutely robbed of an All-Star squad spot and potentially a chance to face United again on Wednesday. He's slowly but surely become a top tier right back in MLS. By "top tier," I mean if not the best, a real close second or third.
You'd be hard pressed to find a better left midfield duo to take on a right back for 90 minutes than the Ryan Giggs and Nani tandem that United boasts. Shut down either of the two for a good portion of the game and provide his usual assistance in the United half of the field and perhaps Bob Bradley, or whoever is going to be the next national team coach, will take a bit of notice and throw a little Gold Cup training camp love Harrington's way. Of all Americans currently on the Wizards roster, Harrington by far stands the best chance of earning a call up at anytime in his career.
As for Smith, a potential matchup with little Brazilian right back Rafael could be, if nothing else, extremely exciting and fun to watch. Each are very quick on and off the ball, and have nice technique and technical ability when dribbling. If Smith and the da Silva twin go at each other for 60 minutes Sunday, no matter who wins the matchup on the field, all of us in the stands will have been winners for witnessing it.
For anyone that says, "I don't know why they (United) are playing Kansas City; they're terrible and a waste of their time," and I've heard plenty of those people, many could be pleasantly surprised come Sunday if these few individual mathcups live up to their billing and produce the excitement that we are all hoping for.