SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- One of the biggest crowds to ever attend a soccer match in the Bay Area convened on Levi's Stadium Saturday afternoon to watch glamour clubs Manchester United and FC Barcelona face off in the 2015 International Champions Cup, and the 68,416 that filled the stadium were not disappointed.
Wayne Rooney put United ahead with a first half header, and teammate Jesse Lingard doubled the advantage after intermission, and each team scored a late goal as the match entered stoppage time -- Rafinha for Barca and Adnan Januzaj for Manchester -- as the Premier League side improved to 3-0 in the ICC with a 3-1 victory over Barcelona.
You have to go back to 1999 to find a match that had a higher attendance for a Northern California soccer match, when the U.S. women's national team defeated Brazil 2-0 in a Women's World Cup semifinal in front of 73, 123 at Stanford Stadium. The largest ever attendance for a club-only match-up came in 2009 when Barcelona played Chivas de Guadalajara in front of 61,572 at Candlestick Park.
That Manchester and Barcelona were playing a friendly as part of their preseason preparations ahead of new seasons in England and Spain respectively was of no concern to those in the sun-baked crowd. Split almost evenly between the red jerseys of United and the red and blue striped shirts of Barca, everyone was ecstatic to see their footballing idols up close.
Barcelona forward Luis Suarez, the only one of the three strikers Lionel Messi. Neymer, and himself to take the pitch, nearly opened the scoring in the fourth minute as he slammed a free kick off the post that United goalkeeper David De Gea made no action toward. Suarez was a menace for Barca early on, and his efforts in the sixth minute to spring Sergi Roberto on goal should have led to a lead, but the Spanish midfield sent is one-on-one effort right at De Gea.
United, on the other hand, did not waste their first chance of the match, as talisman striker Wayne Rooney buried a header off a corner kick to give Manchester a 1-0 lead in the eighth minute. Barcelona defender Adriano protested vehemently to referee Baldomero Toledo that he was pushed in the back by Rooney, but his efforts to have the goal waved off were summarily torpedoed.
Ashley Young, dynamic as ever along the left touchline, nearly doubled the lead for Manchester in the 28th minute as he cut in on goal and fired a shot that goalkeeper Marc Andre Ter Stegen did well to paw over the crossbar. The sequence started with a turnover in midfield by the Spanish side, an area of the field captain Andres Iniesta and his line mates bossed for much of the first half.
A flurry of opportunities from United in the 31st minute left the crowd out of breathe, but chance after chance was cut out by the Barcelona defense, and the game stayed at 1-0.
Just before the stroke of halftime, Suarez again hit the post, as this time the Uruguayan rocketed a 20-yard effort off the outside of the post after finding space to strike at the top of the area. Barcelona nearly equalized a minute later, but De Gea was able to snag an inbound effort and preserve the United lead into the intermission.
The teams took back to the Levi's Stadium pitch to start the second half with close to the same lineups that faced each other in the first half, much to the delight of the capacity crowd. One newcomer was Barca's Champions League Final hero Ivan Rakitic, who nearly made his impact felt soon after as he skimmed a free kick over the crossbar in the 59th minute.
Suarez appeared to bring the game level in the 61st minute as he calmly tapped in a ball inside the six yard box, but he was adjudged to be offside and the goal was nullified.
Louis van Gaal made wholesale changes to his sqaud in the 63rd minute, and it paid off for United within a couple of minutes. With fresh legs and plenty of room to work on the overlap, Tyler Blackett maneuvered into the area and cut a ball through the area for the waiting Jesse Lingard at the far post. With Marouane Fellaini setting a solid pick on the last defender, Lingard had plenty of space to slot the ball inside the post to double United's lead to 2-0.
Second half substitute Adnan Januzaj came tantalizingly close to tripling the lead in the 68th minute, but the Belgian midfielder pulled his effort just outside the post.
In the 72nd minute, Barcelona again hit the woodwork, as this time it was Munir El Haddadi who had the honors of seeing his shot barely miss the target. The forward did well to rise above his marker on a free kick to snap the ball on frame, but the post was again the friend of United.
The Spanish side came close again in the 80th minute as Alen Halilovic nearly redirected a low cross into the net, but his defensive marker did just enough to close the angle, and the Croatian could only rue the missed opportunity.
Barcelona poured it on over the last 10 minutes of the match, but time and time again the United defense stood tall. The most dangerous lead in soccer proved to be true, as Rafinha scored a stunning volley in the 90th minute to halve Manchester's lead, but a minute later, Januzaj got one back to bring the final score to 3-1.