This month, Manchester United embark on a visit to the United States for the sixth time in twelve years – a country where the Reds enjoy growing popularity among football fans.
In his second season as manager, Louis van Gaal will look to capitalise on the trip to find the balance he seeks in the squad ahead of Champions League play-offs in August.
A New Look Squad
He has already secured the services of Memphis Depay and Bastian Schweinsteiger, and if speculation turns out to be accurate, more signings are highly likely this week; the club will look to have Matteo Darmian and Morgan Schneiderlin on board the plane on Monday.
Chances for Youth?
From the 26 players who crossed the Atlantic last year, only 12 went on to play first-team football. Among the 26 were seven youngsters who ended up being sold or loaned out. Tyler Blackett was the only academy product to make it to the Dutchman’s side.
The club’s record appearance-maker Ryan Giggs has urged junior players to give their all in the upcoming pre-season stage:
“Young players might come on tour thinking they’ll not get many minutes but then suddenly there’ll be an injury to a senior player. The young player might then have a ten or fifteen-minute cameo, play really well, get into the team for the next game and do really well again. So the tour is definitely an important stage for the young players to make their mark.”
United’s USA Record
The Red Devils have always enjoyed good results in Northern America. In five tours, they have won 17 games and lost only four (twice in penalty shoot-outs), scoring 48 goals and conceding only 15.
Their toughest opponents for this pre-season adventure will come in the shape of Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain. United beat the Spanish champions on two previous occasions (Philadelphia 2003 and Washington DC 2011).
Phil Jones, who will make his third flight to the US this year, expects Mexico’s Club America and Major League Soccer team San Jose Earthquakes to provide equally challenging fixtures:
“The league in the States is growing and growing all the time. They are producing more players and there are European players going over there towards the end of their careers and relishing it. The MLS is getting better and better, and San Jose Earthquakes will be midway through their season when we play them so it’ll be a very difficult test for us, but that’s what we need.”
Reducing the Mile Count
Scrupulous attention has been given to distance the players will travel this year. The manager complained last year that his players had to cope with a too many commercial activities and jet lag, so this time he’s been heavily involved in setting the schedule. Last summer, travelling the West to East Coast, they racked up 83 hours of flight time and covered nearly 6,000 miles. This will be cut down to around 57 hours (4,000 miles) this year.
“We have improved our America tour because we have two basecamps and we are on the West Coast so we have lower temperatures and can build up our fitness better there.”
The Season Ahead
United will also hope they will have a better post-tour season than they have enjoyed in the past following a trip to the States. In the last five post-US-Tour campaigns, the club has managed only one EPL title (2010-2011) and one FA Cup (2003-2004).
“United have to compete for the league title and, at the very least, win a domestic cup competition next season. They may not be quite ready to win the title, but they have to be in the mix – Van Gaal will want nothing less.”
Possible Tour Squad
Notwithstanding any potential further signings made before the team sets off for the States, here’s what the squad might look like:
Goalkeepers: David De Gea, Victor Valdes, Anders Lindegaard
Defenders: Tyler Blackett, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Reece James, Jonny Evans, Paddy McNair, Rafael, Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw
Midfielders: Bastian Schweinsteiger, Antonio Valencia, Daley Blind, Michael Carrick, Memphis Depay, Angel Di Maria, Marouane Fellaini, Ander Herrera, Adnan Januzaj, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, Andreas Pereira, Ashley Young
Strikers: Wayne Rooney, James Wilson.