Manchester United has been doing preseason tours in the United States since the 1950s. Only within the past decade, as soccer stateside has blossomed, have other top European clubs such as Real Madrid and Chelsea caught on.
And so it is that this summer, with 10 players from the 2014 World Cup in tow, United is expecting its biggest U.S. tour to date.
"What's really interesting this time around to us is to see, since we were last here in 2011, how football has evolved again" in the area, director of marketing Jonathan Rigby said from Pasadena, Calif., where United played Major League Soccer's L.A. Galaxy on Wednesday. "We sense that, because of the continued success of MLS and obviously the recent World Cup, there's been a real tipping point in the U.S. "
On Tuesday, the English Premier League giant will play Serie A's Inter Milan at FedEx Field in Landover in its second match of this summer's International Champions Cup, a friendly tournament among some of the top teams in England, Greece, Italy and Spain that runs through Aug. 4.
United kicked off its run with a 3-2 win Saturday against Roma in Denver, while Inter played Real Madrid.
Inter named four World Cup players to its own Champions Cup roster, but left off forward Rodrigo Palacio, who played in Argentina's 1-0 loss to Germany in the World Cup final July 13.
United has brought along a World Cup manager as well: former Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal, who took over the club immediately after guiding the Dutch to a surprising semifinals berth in Brazil. Van Gaal made headlines by saving his third substitution in the quarterfinals against Costa Rica to bring on penalty kick specialist Tim Krul, who saved two shots in the shootout to help the Netherlands advance.
That the U.S. tour features van Gaal's first games at the helm is sure to only add to the mystique surrounding Manchester United, which has three Champions League crowns, a record 13 Premier League titles and, according to Rigby, about 8 million fans in the United States. On Thursday, an announced 86,432 showed up to the Rose Bowl for United's 7-0 shellacking of the Galaxy.
"We want to go and meet all the fans," longtime United midfielder Darren Fletcher said. "I've been a few times and have really enjoyed the tours of America. Fantastic cities and training facilities and stadiums — everything, it's top, top class."
Manchester United last came to FedEx Field three summers ago, when it faced Barcelona in the Champions Cup's predecessor, the World Football Challenge.
That game, a rematch of the 2011 Champions League final in May, drew 81,807.
"That was a fantastic experience for both the fans and the players," Rigby said. "We felt it was right to come back [this year].
"It's a special place that the players really enjoy playing at. It's a city that really loves their sport."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun