Soccer / Sports

Manchester United, Real Madrid game draws big crowd at Michigan Stadium

Mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and lots and lots of friends turned out to be part of Saturday's soccer party at the Big House.

Fay and Lamah Mahle got a code so they could buy tickets before they became available to the public. That is how much it meant to the mother and daughter from Dearborn, Mich., to be a part of the festivities.

The matchup between the two richest clubs in soccer, Manchester United and Real Madrid, drew more Real Madrid fans than Man-U fans, but above all, the friendly drew in droves. The announced crowd of 109,318 was the largest in U.S. soccer history. Fans indulged in hours-long tailgating long before the 4 p.m. start, and once inside Michigan Stadium, took in its massiveness.

It was a novel experience for the Mahles. "This is my first time here," Fay Mahle said. "It's huge. Overwhelming. Just to be here is memorable, doesn't matter what seat you got."

Pratheep Nathan came with his wife, his sister-in-law and brother-in-law, and a best friend from high school. "I'm the biggest soccer fan out here," Nathan said. "A giant soccer fan. I got a Real Madrid jersey just because I like how it looks, and I just want lots of goals."

A veteran of Michigan football games, Nathan appreciated the magnitude of coming to the stadium for a soccer game. "Being here is awesome, amazing," he said. "I hope they bring an MLS team here."

Lamah Mahle, dressed in a Brazil jersey (she called Brazil's World Cup performance "a huge disappointment") has played soccer since she could walk. That made her mom eager to treat her to this event, the first soccer match played at the Big House.

"We're huge soccer fans," Fay Mahle said. "Watched the whole World Cup, all games. As soon as we found out this was coming, we bought the tickets."

Lamah Mahle was rooting for Real Madrid because "Ronaldo trumps Rooney," even though Wayne Rooney started and Cristiano Ronaldo didn't sub in until the 74th minute.

Ronaldo's nearly game-long absence did not sit well with Jeremy Hardy, who was at the game with good friend Patrick Buzas. "I think it's a sign of disrespect Cristiano is not playing," Hardy said. "I think he's not showing up for America like he didn't show up for Portugal in the World Cup."

He and Buzas spent halftime buying more beer -- each was a two-handed drinker, not that there is anything wrong with that. "He's from the U.P. and I'm from Grand Rapids," Buzas said. "So I'm from the No. 1 beer city in the country three years in a row, and he's from the U.P. You're born with beer in your blood."

HJ Kim, 11, snacked on ice cream with his dad, Yong Kim, as they enjoyed their first time together at the Big House.

"It's incredible," HJ Kim said. "My favorite player here is Gareth Bale, so I was happy to see him score."

Originally from South Korea, Yong Kim didn't mind his son was wearing a Thomas Muller shirt "because Germany had such a good World Cup. We are both huge soccer fans, so this is a great chance to see two great teams. We don't have that much opportunity to see great soccer players at Michigan."

The pervasive thinking in the U.S. that soccer games are often boring 0-0 draws, fans said, is tired trope.

"The problem is that as Americans, we have mostly sports that are based off of goals," Buzas said, "so when people who don't understand soccer look at soccer, they say, oh, 0-0, no big deal. But they don't realize the work that can go into it."

Or as Hardy put it, using a phrase used for soccer outside North America, "it really is a beautiful game."

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