ANN ARBOR, Michigan : Although it's easy to dismiss a preseason tournament, Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal understands the significance of this next game.
There will be at least some bragging rights on the line in Monday night's clash against English rival Liverpool. That match in the Miami area is the title game of the International Champions Cup. After United's shocking seventh-place finish in the Premier League last season, van Gaal has a chance to win this tournament less than a month after officially taking over as manager.
"It's also good for English football, and I think that's very important that two teams from the Premier League shall play in the final," van Gaal said. "It is preparation time, so it doesn't say anything, but it is better to win than to lose."
United and Liverpool are among several big-name European teams who have been in the U.S. for this tournament, and they seemed to approach the matches with varying degrees of urgency. Van Gaal's team went unbeaten in group play, beating AS Roma, Inter Milan and Real Madrid to reach the final.
Saturday's 3-1 win over Madrid took place in front of 109,318 at Michigan Stadium, the largest crowd to see a football game in the United States. That scene underscored the benefit of these games -- they help top European teams tap into the growing football market in the U.S.
But the timing isn't always ideal, as evidenced by Madrid's lineup, which was missing star Karim Benzema and new acquisitions James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos. Cristiano Ronaldo came on late in the second half as a substitute, and even that was a surprise.
In a World Cup year, there isn't much down time between European seasons, so managers have to balance preparation and rest for their star players. Madrid, this year's European champion, went winless in three games in the event -- but manager Carlo Ancelotti sounded satisfied with his team's participation.
"Here, we can find all we need to have a good preseason," Ancelotti said. "This time, it was good to do a friendly game, and for the future, I think it will be the same."
United's domestic performance last season was so poor, the team not only failed to qualify for the Champions League, it also missed out on the second-tier Europa League. That's hard for such a prestigious club to accept, but at least this season, van Gaal won't have to worry about those extra matches wearing his team out during its pursuit of a Premier League title.
"It is positive because I can train now more with my players," van Gaal said. "But on the other side, you need also good opponents, and in the Champions League, you have good opponents."
United has certainly faced some quality opponents while in the U.S., but with most teams taking it a bit easy, it's hard to read too much into the results -- even after a victory over a club like Madrid. For United, this tournament has simply been a small step forward -- an encouraging start for a club that definitely could use one.
"You cannot say, `OK, we shall beat every team.' No, it is not like that," van Gaal said after the win over Madrid. "But of course, it's a very good result for us and will give confidence to all the players."