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Union united in effort, but falls to Manchester United

If there was any trepidation in playing one of the world's best, the Union conveyed one heck of a poker face.

If there was any trepidation in playing one of the world's best, the Union conveyed one heck of a poker face.

In a dominant display that allowed for numerous "oohs" and "aahs," a young Union contingent held Manchester United to a 1-0 final by systematically making the English power look relatively harmless - in the first half, anyway - despite the vast number of rising Red Devil youngsters who took the pitch last night for the friendly at Lincoln Financial Field.

The game was played in front of a sea of 44,213 soccer enthusiasts - mostly clad in United red.

What the Union youth learned the hard way, however, is that United always will catch a team sleeping on even the most momentary lapse in concentration. A breakdown in the defensive third allowed for United forward Danny Welbeck to slot a well-timed ball to forward Gabriel Obertan, who buried the shot past Union rookie Brian Perk in the 76th minute. Welbeck, 19, who has risen through the ranks of United's reserves, has a goal and an assist after the second match of a four-game, six-city North American tour for United. He scored in United's 3-1 win over Celtic FC in Toronto last Friday.

"Danny is still growing, but he is a part of a very young group of lads for us," said United manager Alex Ferguson. "It's a curve for us, but, in all, he is one of the players that has really impressed."

While the first half provided an equal number of shots on goal (three), the Union definitely held the edge in thrilling moments offensively, starting in the 11th minute when Alejandro Moreno registered the first shot on United keeper Tomasz Kusczak.

But it was the play in the first half of Danny Mwanga, who said earlier this week that playing a team like United is "every soccer player's dream," that created the most chances. In the 16th, the 19-year-old displayed a bit of acrobatics with a juggle and volley that just sailed over the crossbar. Just before half, Mwanga, with a ball played into him in space, laid a ball off to Sebastien LeToux off the flank that trickled past the right post.

"These guys are the best in the world," said Union assistant manager John Hackworth. "For our guys, it was great for them to see how fast the game should be played.

"We felt we came out and tried to play our brand of soccer the way we do every game. The level dropped off when we gave our youngsters invaluable experience in the second half. But that is to be expected. Four games in 10 days is a pretty tough stretch for us, especially our youngsters."

Still, just as they've done all season, the Union continued to provide pressure to the end, its closest chance coming in the 89th minute when a low cross from winger Nick Zimmerman was ripped well over the crossbar despite a well-timed run from midfielder Andrew Jacobson. Perk kept the Union close with a kick save in stoppage time that stymied Richie DeLaet.

"I was joking with my mom this morning that tonight I am going to be playing one of the best teams in the world," Zimmerman said. "This is a moment you dream of at 7 years old when you are watching these guys on TV and at 23 [years old] , I am here living the dream; it's unbelievable."

Postgame, a rousing ovation was given by a raucous crowd, but by the end, despite the sea of red, most of the praise was for an exhausted Union side.

"I love Man U, but the Union played one hell of a game tonight," said Chris Deneen, from Manayunk. "I came here expecting a blowout and, right now, I got to be honest, I am shocked at how well the Union played tonight."

He added:

"Funny how they can look so good against one of the best teams in the world, but they can't even beat most of the teams in their own league."

United's next stop on the tour is a Sunday evening contest against MLS' Kansas City Wizards (6 p.m., FSC) before a July 28 match against the MLS All-Stars in Houston. For the Union, a 9-day break from MLS competition awaits before hosting the New England Revolution at PPL Park on July 31 (3:30 p.m., 6ABC).

Mutual admiration

Of all the players on the Union roster, United manager Alex Ferguson was most impressed with the play of Andrew Jacobson.

"I thought he played well into space and was a bit of a bugger there in the second half.'' Upon hearing Ferguson's praise, Jacobson responded: "He's one of the best managers in the world. For him to even recognize me is a tremendous thing to hear."