Manchester United and Real Madrid are set to attract a record-breaking crowd into the Michigan Stadium on Saturday, when the two juggernauts of European football meet in a hotly anticipated International Champions Cup match.
The pre-season tournament offers little more than a fitness boost to the players, but for American onlookers, it is a rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of arguably the world's two most famous clubs.
Pablo Polo of Marca reported the expected commotion when kick-off arrives, saying, "it's expected that the fixture will break the attendance record for a football game in the United States."
Michigan Stadium, otherwise known as the Big House, has the capacity to pack a crowd of 109,901. Its record attendance currently stands at 105,591, accumulated during the 2014 Winter Classic ice hockey match between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings.
Polo reported "organisers estimate that the stadium will be filled," meaning it should eclipse the best attendances both United and Madrid receive when playing in their domestic setups.
The Premier League side posted a 2013-14 division high of 75,368 onlookers during their fixture with Aston Villa. Madrid's highest number came away at Barcelona, where 98,761 watched El Clasico at the Camp Nou.
Barcelona previously attracted major attention when 93,137 saw the Blaugrana take down a David Beckham-inspired LA Galaxy at California's Rose Bowl in 2012, but the arrival of their Spanish rivals looks set to dash such a number.
Madrid possess a huge following in the States, as noted by the club's Twitter account:
The likely record attendance isn't unique to this summer's pre-season, in which Manchester City and AC Milan set a local record of 34,347 in Pittsburgh, as per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Alex Nieves. Granted, this is a much smaller scale, but it highlights the increasing interest in the sport across a nationwide basis. Gael Clichy, who took part in the match, noted a crowd that was "passionate about soccer."
Brian Stubits of CBS Sports reported a record 26.5 million viewers watched the World Cup final in the USA, highlighting the sport's continued rise in popularity. The US men's national team performed admirably throughout the competition and will have certainly aided the interest of many with their togetherness under Jurgen Klinsmann.
Although neither United or Madrid have an American star within their ranks, plenty of world-renowned talent will be on show.
Players such as Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata, Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez are likely to appear at the Big House. In an alternate report, Polo indicated Cristiano Ronaldo continues to train by himself after suffering a slew of injuries toward the season's end, meaning he may miss the showdown with his former employers.
Both teams have fixtures to fulfill before heading to Michigan. United face Inter Milan at Maryland's FedEx Field on Wednesday morning, while Madrid take on Roma in an intriguing Texas clash. Louis van Gaal's men have kicked off their US tour with wins over the LA Galaxy and Roma, while Madrid lost their opening clash on penalties to Inter.
Pre-season is a time to regain fitness and a competitive edge, but it's also important for elite clubs to expand their brands. United and Madrid need little introduction across the globe, where their supporters remain intensely dedicated.
Their exhibition clash is sure to bring the red and white out in force, as both sets of fans will crave victory when seeing their heroes up close. Although experimental line-ups may be deployed, expect the gigantic crowd to roar their teams toward playing fast-paced, attractive football.
2013-14 attendance figures provided via ESPN FC unless otherwise noted.
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