Soccer: Van Gaal off to encouraging start at Man United
By NOAH TRISTER, AP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR, August 3, 2014 (AP): Although it's easy to dismiss a
preseason tournament, Manchester United manager Louis van
Gaal understands the significance of this next game.
There will be at least some bragging rights on the line in
Monday night's clash against English rival Liverpool. That match
in the Miami area is the title game of the International
Champions Cup. After United's shocking seventh-place finish
in the Premier League last season, van Gaal has a chance to win
this tournament less than a month after officially taking over
``It's also good for English football, and I think that's very
important that two teams from the Premier League shall play in
the final,'' van Gaal said. ``It is preparation time, so it
doesn't say anything, but it is better to win than to lose.''
United and Liverpool are among several big-name European teams
who have been in the U.S. for this tournament, and they seemed
to approach the matches with varying degrees of urgency. Van
Gaal's team went unbeaten in group play, beating AS Roma,
Inter Milan, and Real Madrid to reach the final.
Saturday's 3-1 win over Madrid took place in front of 109,318 at
Michigan Stadium, the largest crowd to see a football
game in the United States. That scene underscored the benefit of
these games—they help top European teams tap into the growing
football market in the U.S.
But the timing isn't always ideal, as evidenced by Madrid's
lineup, which was missing star Karim Benzema and new
acquisitions James Rodríguez and Toni Kroos. Cristiano Ronaldo
came on late in the second half as a substitute, and even that
was a surprise.
In a World Cup year, there isn't much down time between European
seasons, so managers have to balance preparation and rest for
their star players. Madrid, this year's European champion, went
winless in three games in the event—but manager Carlo Ancelotti
sounded satisfied with his team's participation.
``Here, we can find all we need to have a good preseason,''
Ancelotti said. ``This time, it was good to do a friendly game,
and for the future, I think it will be the same.''
United's domestic performance last season was so poor, the team
not only failed to qualify for the Champions League, it also
missed out on the second-tier Europa League. That's hard
for such a prestigious club to accept, but at least this season,
van Gaal won't have to worry about those extra matches wearing
his team out during its pursuit of a Premier League title.
``It is positive because I can train now more with my players,''
van Gaal said. ``But on the other side, you need also good
opponents, and in the Champions League, you have good
United has certainly faced some quality opponents while in the
U.S., but with most teams taking it a bit easy, it's hard to
read too much into the results—even after a victory over a club
like Madrid. For United, this tournament has simply been a small
step forward—an encouraging start for a club that definitely
could use one.
``You cannot say, `OK, we shall beat every team.' No, it is not
like that,'' van Gaal said after the win over Madrid. ``But of
course, it's a very good result for us and will give confidence
to all the players.''