The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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American conquest still a long way off
- Manchester United’s four-match tour was a success in many respects

New York: Manchester United came, were seen, and conquered all foes thrown their way.

In many respects, United’s four-game tour of the United States was a rousing success. After all, the English Premiership power made some money for itself and the tour’s promoters, made some new friends and fans and sold a lot of ManU shirts and scarves.

A dynamic United side rolled over its opposition, beating the likes of Juventus, Barcelona, Club America and Celtic by an astounding (collective) 14-3 margin.

The four games in Seattle, Los Angeles, East Rutherford and Philadelphia included three sell-outs and drew an average attendance of 67,872 per match.

Excellent numbers, but in terms of making a conquest of the American soccer or sports fan for the long haul, well, that’s still a long way off.

Even United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, a voice of reason, realised that.

“It’s not about conquering anything,” he said. “This is a big country, and we still have a long way to go.”

And United will return — most likely in 2006 or 2007. “I have no doubt United will be back here,” Ferguson said. “The reception given to us has been excellent, and the facilities for the players have been superb.”

Now, American soccer fans will return to reality and some will support their favourite Major League Soccer clubs, which had taken a 10-day hiatus due to their all-star game break.

The 10 MLS clubs average 14,613 spectators a game, modest numbers when compared to the big clubs and leagues of Europe. But it still ranks among the top 10 professional soccer leagues in the world.

Each team plays a 30-game season from April through October, with play-offs to follow through the end of November.

The championship game will be played at the new 27,000-seat Home Depot Center in Carson, south of Los Angeles.

The stadium is the wave of the future for American football, which wants smaller, intimate venues rather than, for example, the cavernous 79,005-seat Giants Stadium.

The stadium, which United filled up to establish a record for club football in America, is home to the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, who average 16,871.

In many ways, United’s tour can be equated to the circus coming to town. There is a lot of anticipation, people attend and have a good time and go home with some pleasant memories.

But it doesn’t linger, especially in this society’s relative short attention span.

United hopes some of those memories will continue as their games will be televised by the YES Network, in an agreement they made with another mega-sports club, the New York Yankees, two years ago.

If anything, the tour helped raise the profile of ChampionsWorld, the promoter of the event. ChampionsWorld produced what was considered the greatest summer of international club friendlies in US football history, and the money and reputation it made will help the company promote more games and tours in the future.

And the tour certainly helped raise the profile of at least one other American — United’s new goalkeeper Tim Howard, a former MetroStar who acquitted himself well and then some in his first two matches in his quest to win the top spot at Old Trafford.

“He was confident, relaxed, and he enjoyed it,” Ferguson said. “He will definitely compete for the No. 1 jersey.”

United’s tour was perfect for the US, which thrives on and supports big events.

And the next big soccer event isn’t too far off. The US will host the women’s World Cup from September 20 through October 12, a tournament that had to be moved from China because of the SARS epidemic.

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