Tuesday night’s match between Manchester United and Inter Milan at FedEx Field had all the traits of a preseason match on neutral grounds: bundles of substitutions, faint signs of team chemistry taking form and a casual atmosphere.
Lacking the bite they’ll exhibit next month when meaningful competition begins, the clubs toiled without a goal for 90 minutes before settling matters on penalty kicks in front of an announced 61,238.
United prevailed in the tiebreaker, 5-3, to claim two points in the International Champions Cup, an eight-team tournament for European sides prepping for league play.
The match came to life in the last 15 minutes, thanks largely to United’s Wilfried Zaha, but failed to offer a breakthrough.
United was the superior side overall, pleasing new coach Louis van Gaal, the former Dutch World Cup boss, who is building toward the Premier League debut Aug. 16 against Swansea City.
“We played by far the best match” of the first three on the tour, which included a 7-0 destruction of the Los Angeles Galaxy and a 3-2 victory over Roma, van Gaal said. “The ball possession was much better and the positions were better covered. I was very pleased with the performance of my players, in the first half but also in the second half” after he made eight halftime substitutions.
The Red Devils will be part of history this weekend: The largest crowd in U.S. history is expected for their ICC game against European champion Real Madrid at Michigan Stadium.
The scene before kickoff was light and festive. Hundreds of United supporters lined the lower wall seeking photos and autographs. They wore red jerseys stamped with the names of players past and present: Robin Van Persie (on vacation), Ryan Giggs (now an assistant coach after 23 years of classy service), Nemanja Vidic (now with Inter), Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Scholes.
A scattering of Inter blue broke up the river of red. Inter, missing its Argentine World Cup layers, will open the Serie A campaign Aug. 30 at Torino.
“We did very well,” Coach Walter Mazzarri said. “We don’t have our full squad yet. This was a pretty even match.”
Vidic, a Serbian center back who played nine seasons in Manchester before leaving this year, received warm applause from the partisan United crowd. “It was a pleasure to see, a player welcomed back,” Mazzarri said. “There are things that are very good for football.”
FedEx Field is not an ideal soccer venue for many reasons, and on this night, it added to the list of shortcomings with a pregame video-board message stating United’s home stadium is “Old Traddord.” (It’s Old Trafford, one of the sports world’s most famous locations.) An hour later, the error had not been corrected.
The last time the Red Devils visited Washington, in the summer of 2011, they teamed with Barcelona to attract the largest soccer crowd in D.C. area history (81,807) for a rematch of that year’s UEFA Champions League final. Manchester United won that game, 3-2.
This turnout did not appear close to matching the stated figure. Ticket holders with seats in the upper deck were allowed to move closer at no extra charge. Some said they received free tickets.
United threatened first on Phil Jones’s diving header off a corner kick in the 11th minute. Samir Handanovic, Inter’s Slovenian goalkeeper, made an iridescent save, flashing to his left.
A fine combination featuring Danny Welbeck, Rooney and Juan Mata almost broke down Inter’s resistance and Mata whistled a 25-yarder wide of the near right post.
Vidic interrupted a promising burst by Zaha. Luke Shaw, a 19-year-old acquired by United from Southampton, created a brief stir by skipping past a challenge. Tom Cleverly’s volley rocketed over the crossbar.
Inter’s Fredy Guarin tested David De Gea in the 85th minute with a wicked free kick.
It was on to penalty kicks.
“It was a little bit of luck,” van Gaal said, “but we deserved the victory.”