Man United too good for the Galaxy
LOS ANGELES -- The "Mexican Morrissey" sang legendary Manchester songs on a stage in a field outside the Rose Bowl.
Thousands of American Manchester United fans soaked up the sun and created an atmosphere more reminiscent of a festival as the music of bands like the Stone Roses and New Order filled the valley air.
"This is so different to the Manchester United I watched and played for in the 1980s," said a smiling Billy Garton, a former defender who is now a resident of San Diego. "Watching football used to be scary. Now, look at this."
All the fans had their story about why they support United. For some, it was a life's passion; others were newer converts to the 20-time champion of England. The occasional fans, wearing shirts of rival teams such as Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool, mixed without fear of assault ahead of United's first game under their new boss, Louis van Gaal. That sentiment wouldn't be extended to the night's opponents, the LA Galaxy.
More than 86,000 fans traveled along traffic-clogged roads to see a friendly game in the vast, open, aging bowl. The United team themselves, just 45 minutes before kickoff, nudged through cheering fans who had paid $27 to $77 for tickets, and another $30 for a place in the car park (on a nearby golf course).
A couple of hours later, those fans would leave the stadium, which staged the 1994 World Cup final, delighted by what they'd seen. Nobody will get carried away by the result of a preseason friendly, but United were excellent as they hit seven past the four-time MLS champions.
New signing Ander Herrera was man of a match in which he set up goals for fun. The Spaniard was one of just two players -- Darren Fletcher was the other -- who played all 90 minutes. Overall, the mood contrasted sharply with United's first friendly game under David Moyes, a soporific affair in Bangkok last year that ended in defeat.
Van Gaal started with a 3-5-2 formation that he used successfully with the Netherlands in the World Cup. It is an alignment that makes use of United's scarcity of defenders and surfeit of attacking midfielders. In addition to Herrera, new signing Luke Shaw started, while Fletcher was captain ahead of Wayne Rooney. The Scot, who has overcome the adversity of illness and injury, performed nobly in two positions.
"I think the result always matters because with such a result you gain confidence because we introduced a new system in the training sessions," van Gaal said afterward. "We have played 11 vs. 11 twice with the new system, which may not be that much, but the boys are willing to pick up all the information we have given them. They performed fantastic today.
"When you want to change a system, you have to start at once because we don't have time to prepare other things. The other system Man United can play is 4-3-3; they have played this system for many years. I can change this system when it doesn't work. With the quality of the players I have, I think we can play better with this system because we have four strikers.
"For example, when we play 4-3-3, then I have three strikers on the bench and I think that is not good. That is why I want to play with two strikers. Also, we have four No. 10s, so the selection is not balanced in my eyes. Because of that, I have decided to play in this system. Only because of the quality of the players, but when that doesn't work I'll change it to a 4-3-3."
Standards have improved in MLS, and the Galaxy are 17 games into their regular season, but United started brightly and controlled possession throughout. Herrera was involved in five of the seven goals.
"I thought he was fantastic," Galaxy captain Robbie Keane said. "The best player on the pitch by far."
It was a view echoed by LA coach Bruce Arena.
"Technically good . . . [Herrera] and [Juan] Mata and Fletcher I thought were very good in the middle of the field. I think in the first half that was a big part of them owning the game. In the middle third of the field they were terrific, not only with their passing, but winning some tackles and picking up some second balls. I was very impressed with that. I hadn't seen much of that player but he's a good player."
Always looking to move the ball forward, Herrera showed his attacking intent early with a fourth-minute shot from distance. Eight minutes later, Danny Welbeck, who needs an impressive season after fading last term, did open the scoring with a low shot from outside the area.
The huge crowd -- officially logged as 86,432 -- did the wave in the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains, and United added to their lead twice through Rooney in the minutes before halftime. His first was a penalty and his second came after a Welbeck cross went through the legs of a defender.
Van Gaal made nine changes at halftime, with Nani and Ashley Young coming in to play up front and Fletcher dropping back into central defence. Reece James, a hardworking left-sided defender with an attacking instinct, came on and scored twice. A late Young double -- both set up by the Basque, Herrera -- made it 7-0. Each of the goals was scored by an English player.
United may have had the star names but some of their young players have never played in front of such a huge crowd. James, from a small hillside town called Bacup, 20 miles north of Manchester, can be delighted with his performance.
The 20-year-old wasn't even on the team sheet signed by van Gaal at the start of the game. At its end, he approached Landon Donovan to ask for his shirt, and the veteran of three World Cups obliged.
United, and James, deserved it. Van Gaal's will face tougher tests, starting with a match against AS Roma in Denver on Saturday. That's another team United once put seven past . . .
Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter @AndyMitten.