WASHINGTON - Fifty years after the Beatles launched a British musical "invasion" of America, English football clubs are playing pre-season matches in the United States hoping to spark growth for the sport.
Premier League sides Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City will combine to play 16 matches on US soil in a follow on to strong American interest in the World Cup.
"Football is growing here, particularly after the World Cup, and every time you come over you see it's getting bigger," Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney told the team's website. "It's incredible to see the number of fans who turn up to cheer us on. The crowds will be really good." More than 55,000 watched as hosts Seattle drew 3-3 with Spurs in Saturday's friendly, but the biggest and best events are yet to come.
New manager Louis Van Gaal kicks off his reign at Manchester United this week when the Reds visit the Los Angeles Galaxy, already in the middle of their Major League Football season, on Wednesday to kick off their US tour.
The 62-year-old Dutchman, who replaced the sacked David Moyes, guides United in the States after directing the Netherlands to a third-place finish at the World Cup earlier this month, leaving barely a break in between assignments.
"That's no problem for me. I don't need a holiday," Van Gaal said. "It's great to have such an exciting challenge. To work daily with young people is something that I don't need time off to rest for. I'm looking forward to it.
"I'll do my best. Whether that's enough for the fans I will wait and see, but I genuinely hope that will be the case." Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City will play in the International Champions Cup, a collection of pre-season matches between top European clubs all preparing for the start of their domestic campaigns.
Manchester United will play AS Roma on Saturday in Denver, meet Inter Milan on July 29 in Washington and face Real Madrid on August 2 in suburban Detroit before a sold-out Michigan Stadium crowd of about 110,000, the largest US crowd ever for the sport.
"The USA had a good World Cup. People are into their football out here and it's vitally important we come here," Liverpool all-time goals leader Ian Rush told the club's website.
"To see so many English Premier League teams here is a story in itself. It tells you that football in the USA is getting bigger and bigger." More than 31 million people watched Premier League matches as part of a $250 million deal last season under a new US television contract with US Olympic telecaster NBC and World Cup ratings were strong in America even beyond the US squad's march to the last 16.
Liverpool, run by the owners of Major League Baseball's Boston Red Sox, expect to play before 150,000 people over their four matches.
US offers many benefits
United, owned by the Glazer family that owns the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, could play in the Cup final at Miami on August 4, just 12 days before opening the Premier League season at Old Trafford against Swansea.
"There are lots of benefits," Manchester United assistant manager Ryan Giggs said. "Facilities are good. All the lads love going to the States because you can chill out in the day, do a bit of shopping and relax when you have a bit of down time. You don't get pestered like you might in other places." It's the first US visit for United since 2011 and the travel group includes Rooney, Japanese midfielder Shinji Kagawa, Spanish midfielder Juan Mata and Mexico's Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, the "Little Pea" who arrives Tuesday.
"Pre-season is always massively important and the tour gives the manager an opportunity to get all the players together and drill home his ideas that will last for the rest of the season," England defender Chris Smalling said.
While Dutch star Robin Van Persie will not accompany the team, resting in the wake of his team's deep run in Brazil, there will be plenty of World Cup talent.