Don't call it a comeback -- they've been here at least a year.
A mere four days after the one-year anniversary of the reincarnation of a distinctly American soccer phenomenon, the New York Cosmos will kick off in their first high-profile match in 27 years on Friday against famed English Premier League club Manchester United at Old Trafford in Greater Manchester, England. Despite no league affiliation and no regular players above the Academy level, the New York side will become the first American club to play a match at Old Trafford.
The friendly will serve as a testimonial match to longtime Man U midfielder Paul Scholes, who retired following the 2010-11 EPL season after spending his entire 15-year career playing for the Red Devils. Scholes will don the iconic red kit of Manchester United one last time as a player before committing to his new role as a coach for the only club to ever issue him a paycheck.
Key Matchup: Cosmos vs. Their Own Expectations. The ghosts of Cosmos past include the likes of German sweeper Franz Beckenbauer, Italian striker Giorgio Chinaglia, and the prolific Brazilian forward Pelé, but the starting XI of today's Cosmos are household names in the soccer world for other reasons.
Cosmos Director of Soccer Eric Cantona will field a side for a 4-3-3 formation consisting largely of mercenaries who likely won't be part of the club's playing days to come. Cantona's personnel includes notable Manchester United players in Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, and Dwight Yorke along with Italian center back Fabio Cannavaro, French midfielder Patrick Vieira, and an American duo of forward Brian McBride and goalkeeper Brad Friedel.
For as much as that star-studded squad will gather to celebrate the Scholes Testimonial, they will also represent a Cosmos organization seeking accreditation on the domestic soccer scene. First impressions are everything, especially for a club attempting to impress MLS in order to join the ranks of the American league.
Mercy Me. Though Cantona had only two practice sessions to morph his makeshift squad into playing form, he can't expect his former club to pull any punches for an American club reestablishing its identity.
Manchester United arrives for today's match fresh off a US Tour in which they posted a 17-2 score against American opponents, including a 7-0 drubbing of the Seattle Sounders on July 20 and a 4-0 win over the MLS All-Stars on July 27. Sir Alex Ferguson also managed the Edwin van der Sar Dream Team on Wednesday in a testimonial match against the first club of the longtime Man U goalkeeper, Ajax Amsterdam.
Ferguson called upon current Red Devils Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, and Nemanja Vidic among others on Wednesday, and will not hesitate to do so again for Friday's tribute to Scholes -- even as the club prepares for the FA Community Shield match against derby rival Manchester City this Sunday. Manchester United did not hold back against their US opponents nor in the van der Sar testimonial and they won't start now for the Cosmos.
Class Reunion. Pelé will be on hand as the Cosmos' Honorary President to connect the club to its history, but the Manchester United history could outshine that connection before what is expected to be a sellout crowd at Old Trafford.
Four members of the Manchester United's Class of '92 squad -- named for the many talented players to emerge from the Red Devils squad that won the FA Youth Cup in 1992 -- could appear on the field, with Neville and Butt playing for Cantona's Cosmos while Scholes and Giggs play for Manchester United.
A notable absence from the Class of '92 players appearing on Friday is Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder David Beckham. According to The Daily Mail, Beckham was unable to attend the match due to contract restrictions -- though the Galaxy previously grant him permission to leave the club to play in the Gary Neville Testimonial in May. The Galaxy did not reply to an email seeking confirmation about Beckham's availability.