CHESTER, Pa. - Traveling to another continent to play your first preseason match of the season is certainly no easy task. Add in mid-90s temperatures and taking on a solid MLS team in the Philadelphia Union, and it's easy to see why Everton FC dropped a 1-0 decision on Wednesday.
Everton brought a strong group that included most starters like captain Phil Neville, Tim Cahill, and Mikel Arteta, but a noticeable name was missing. United States goalkeeper Tim Howard, the man most Philadelphians were looking forward to seeing, did not participate in the game due to his ongoing vacation following last month's Gold Cup.
Yet even without him, it was a strong squad.
“We didn’t play that well," Everton manager David Moyes said. "I thought we had a good 20 minutes in the second half, but under those circumstances, I have no complaints.”
On a night when English powerhouse Manchester United defeated the Seattle Sounders 7-0 and despite the fact that no MLS team had beaten a European team this summer prior to Wednesday, the Union won. Neville came away impressed with the American opponent his team faced.
Last season, Everton traveled to Australia to take on Sydney FC, Melbourne Heart, and Brisbane Roar, and Neville believes that competition was nowhere near as good as America's top professional soccer league.
“I think an American tour taking on MLS is the best preseason tour you can go on," said Neville.
“Each summer MLS has improved. I’ve been coming here for seven or eight years now, and the guys now feel they can play against a European team. They didn’t seem to feel that way back then.”
Neville returned to Philadelphia for the first time in nearly a decade since he last played there with Manchester United and spoke glowingly of the city’s atmosphere and the fans' support for their team.
“Having played in Salt Lake twice, New York, Houston, and other cities, I felt like Philadelphia was more like a European atmosphere than any other city," he said. "Tonight’s fans and the game were more about the football.”
Everton will continue its American tour on Saturday against D.C. United at RFK Stadium, while the Union will try to knock off Cristiano Ronaldo and Spanish giant Real Madrid at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday night.
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