If Louis van Gaal had any misconceptions about what he was getting himself into when he became coach of the world's most popular soccer team, they were probably dispelled Wednesday at the Rose Bowl.
His first game in front of the bench for Manchester United, in a midweek exhibition against the Galaxy more than 5,000 miles from home, drew a crowd of 86,432.
His last game as coach of the Netherlands national team, in the bronze-medal game of the World Cup against host Brazil, drew 18,000 less.
United sent most of those fans home happy, winning Van Gaal's debut 7-0 behind two first-goals by Wayne Rooney and second-half braces from both Reece James and Ashley Young. Yet that reception only served to highlight how complete an adjustment United's new coach and players are being asked to make.
“Everyone was telling me how big the club is,” said teenage defender Luke Shaw, who signed with the team last month. “But you don't realize until you go away on our preseason tour how big the club is and how big the fan base is.
“It's crazy. Manchester is the biggest club in the world.”
So big that 2,500 people paid $20 to sit beneath a blazing sun and watch the team practice the day before the game. So big that its marketing department says 660 million people — one of every 11 on the planet — is a United fan. So big that the team sold 1.4 million jerseys worldwide last year.
And so big that the weight of expectations crushed David Moyes, who was fired as United's coach in April after less than a year on the job. Enter Van Gaal, the team's fourth coach in 15 months and one who has already won titles with some of the world's most iconic clubs: Ajax and AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch Eredivisie, Barcelona in Spain's La Liga and Bayern Munich in the German Bundesliga.
But his bucket list included coaching in the English Premier League. So when Manchester United approached Van Gaal last spring following its worst season in more than two decades, the opportunity seemed greater than the risk.
“The pressure that I lay on myself,” he said “is much bigger.”
Van Gaal's extended stay at the World Cup delayed the start of his new job, though, leaving him with less than a month to rebuild a team that finished seventh in the EPL last season.
He got a chance to audition 20 players Wednesday and most of what he saw certainly appeared to be top level. After Danny Welbeck opened the scoring in the 13th minute by banking a right-footed shot from distance off the far post, Rooney converted a penalty kick in the 42nd minute, then made it 3-0 in first-half stoppage time, taking advantage of a miscue by Galaxy defender Tommy Meyer, then climbing over keeper Jaime Penedo to tap the ball into an empty net.
When Rooney left at halftime James, a 20-year-old who plays for United's reserve team, took over, scoring twice. The first came off a nice pass from Young, who added two goals of his own in the final two minutes — both off assists from Ander Herrera, who was also making his United debut after coming over from Spain's Athletic Bilbao.
The Galaxy, meanwhile, managed only two shots on goal all night.
“Always the results matter,” a happy Van Gaal said after the rout. “With such results you get confidence — and confidence in a new system. It was fantastic how they performed.”
Times staff writer Everett Cook contributed to this report.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun