Fifty years after the Beatles launched a British musical “invasion” of the US, English soccer clubs are playing preseason matches in the US, hoping to spark growth for the sport there.
Premier League sides Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City are playing 16 matches on US soil in a follow-on to the US’ strong interest in the recently concluded FIFA World Cup.
“Football is growing here, particularly after the World Cup, and every time you come over you see it’s getting bigger,” Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney told the team’s Web site. “It’s incredible to see the number of fans who turn up to cheer us on. The crowds will be really good.”
More than 55,000 watched as hosts Seattle drew 3-3 with Spurs in a friendly on Saturday, but the biggest and best events are yet to come.
New United manager Louis van Gaal is to begin his tenure at Old Trafford today with the Red Devils to visit the Los Angeles Galaxy, already in the middle of their US Major League Soccer season, the first match of Manchester United’s US tour.
The 62-year-old Dutchman, who replaced the sacked David Moyes, guides United in the US after directing the Netherlands to a third-place finish at the World Cup earlier this month, leaving barely a break in between assignments.
“That’s no problem for me. I don’t need a holiday,” Van Gaal said. “It’s great to have such an exciting challenge. To work daily with young people is something that I don’t need time off to rest for. I’m looking forward to it.”
“I’ll do my best. Whether that’s enough for the fans I will wait and see, but I genuinely hope that will be the case,” he added.
United, Liverpool and City are to play in the International Champions Cup, a collection of preseason matches between top European clubs all preparing for the start of their domestic campaigns.
Manchester United are to play AS Roma on Saturday in Denver, Colorado, Inter on Tuesday next week in Washington and Real Madrid on Aug. 2 in suburban Detroit before a sold-out Michigan Stadium crowd of about 110,000, the largest-ever US crowd for the sport.
“The USA had a good World Cup. People are into their football out here, and it’s vitally important we come here,” Liverpool all-time leading goal scorer Ian Rush told the club’s Web site. “To see so many English Premier League teams here is a story in itself. It tells you that football in the USA is getting bigger and bigger.”
More than 31 million people watched Premier League matches as part of a US$250 million deal last season under a new US television contract with US Olympic telecaster NBC, and World Cup ratings were strong in the US even beyond the Stars and Stripes’ march to the final 16 in Brazil.
Liverpool, run by the owners of Major League Baseball team the Boston Red Sox, expect to play before 150,000 people over their four matches.
United — owned by the Glazer family, who own the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers — could play in the International Champions Cup final in Miami on Aug. 4, just 12 days before opening the Premier League season at Old Trafford against Swansea City.
“There are lots of benefits,” United assistant manager Ryan Giggs said. “Facilities are good. All the lads love going to the States because you can chill out in the day, do a bit of shopping and relax when you have a bit of down time. You don’t get pestered like you might in other places.”