Ann Arbor — Four hours before kickoff, roads were jammed, tailgates were hopping and there was a palpable buzz.
No, it’s not football season.
But it sure felt like a Michigan football Saturday, despite the sea of red-clad fans (can you say, Ohio State?) as Manchester United and Real Madrid met in the Guinness International Champions Cup at Michigan Stadium.
The announced attendance was 109,318, the largest crowd for soccer in U.S. history, as Manchester United won, 3-1. But the real excitement came late in the match when standout Cristiano Ronaldo, who was not expected to play because of a knee injury, delighted the crowd when he took the field to loud chants of “Ro-nol-do! Ro-nol-do!”.
It was the first time a soccer match has been played at Michigan Stadium. The attendance broke the previous record of 101,799 set at the 1984 Olympic final at the Rose Bowl.
“The spectacle was terrific, but the biggest problem was all the red in the stands,” Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said, laughing.
Manchester United advances to the International Champions Cup final against Liverpool on Monday night in Miami.
Louis Van Gaal, Manchester United’s coach, praised the U.S. preseason tour in large part because of the exposure the sport has gained in this country, particuarly on the heels of the World Cup.
“Within 14 days, we have played for more than 300,000 fans, and that’s amazing,” Van Gaal said. “We also had a chance to meet the American fans of ours, so that’s a very good point.
“The atmosphere (at Michigan Stadium) was fantastic.”
While these are considered “preseason friendly” matches, Van Gaal said it was anything but on Saturday.
“The game was not a friendly game,” he said. “I had the feeling that Real Madrid doesn’t want to lose and that’s why (Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti) started with Ronaldo a little bit earlier than he has said before. We won, and we deserved to win.
Ancelotti said after the game he allowed Ronaldo to enter the game because he wanted some game-speed experience. Ronaldo has been working out but hadn’t played in the U.S. series because of a knee injury. Ronaldo, like most of the players, did not stop to talk to media after the game.
“Cristiano really wants to play in the Super Cup and for this reason I only gave him 20 minutes,” Ancelotti said, referring to an upcoming Real Madrid match on Aug. 12.”
Ashley Young scored two goals for Manchester United.
And now, the team will face Liverpool for the Cup.
“It’s good for English football,” Van Gaal said. “That’s very important that two teams from the Premier League shall play in the final but also for (Liverpool), it’s preparation time, so it doesn’t say anything. But it’s better to win than to lose.”