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Pre-season U.S. tour brings a Manchester United youth movement

With World Cup stars on vacation, the kids are ready to step up.

On the same day Paul Pogba lifted the World Cup with his France teammates, a decidedly youthful Manchester United squad jetted off to Los Angeles for a two-and-a-half week tour of the United States. In fact, half of José Mourinho’s traveling party is either fresh off a loan spell or stepping up from the academy. So much for “the monster that kills little kids.”

A dozen Reds represented their homelands in Russia this summer, with seven advancing all the way to the final weekend. That World Cup success, though, comes at a cost.

Most of those players will need at least three weeks off to recover before getting back to club football. That would put their return to Carrington on the very week of United’s Premier League opener against Leicester City.

Obviously, that rules first-team fixtures like Romelu Lukaku, Pogba, and Ashley Young out for that match — and greatly complicates Mourinho’s preparations for the coming season.

“Preseason is very bad,” the manager lamented at Wednesday’s press conference. “It’s positive for the young boys that have the fantastic opportunity to train with us and know what it is to be a United player.”

But at least some help appears to be on the way. Mourinho revealed that Nemanja Matić, David De Gea, and new signing Fred should arrive in L.A. next week after early exits from the World Cup. Hopefully Alexis Sánchez will be out of visa limbo by then too.

All this upheaval helps to explain why Manchester United’s tour squad includes eight teenagers, as well as several others hoping to finally break through after a season away on loan.

Topping the list are a pair of the club’s most prized prospects — Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes. Both will get a close look from Mourinho over the next two weeks, especially with so many established attackers missing. A big tour performance could catapult either Chong or Gomes right into the lineup for the Leicester opener.

Other homegrown hopefuls remain further away from a call-up, but could still make an impression on Mourinho and his new-look coaching staff. Youth products such as Mason Greenwood, James Garner (England U-17 captain), Ro-Shaun Williams, Joshua Botui, and Ethan Hamilton no doubt dream of following in Scott McTominay’s footsteps all the way to the first team.

Greenwood, in particular, looks an enticing prospect. He led the U-18 Premier League North with 17 goals last season, as Kieran McKenna’s squad rolled to the league championship. Best of all, Greenwood is still only 16 — meaning that he regularly outclassed opponents who were two years older and far more physically developed.

José Mourinho can be an intimidating taskmaster to even the most grizzled veterans, so McKenna’s presence on his staff should ease the transition for these youth players. He managed most of them in the U-18s a year ago, instilling an expansive attacking philosophy that took the young side all the way to the national final.

While United’s tour squad overflows with teenagers, don’t forget about the “older” youngsters either. Timothy Fosu-Mensah (Crystal Palace), Andreas Pereira (Valencia), Axel Tuanzebe (Aston Villa), and Demetri Mitchell (Hearts) all went out on loan last season to sand off the rough edges with regular football. Now, they’re back and eager to show off their improvement.

But, first of all, Pereira might need to get back in the boss’s good books. Last August, the Brazilian midfielder opted for a season-long loan at Valencia rather than fighting for his place at Old Trafford as Mourinho wished. Pereira made 23 appearances at the Mestalla and now wants assurances of a United first-team place. This could be a pivotal summer for the 22 year-old.

No matter who suits up for Manchester United over the next few weeks, they will face a stern test in the International Champions Cup. No easy run-outs here, with Real Madrid, Liverpool, and AC Milan all on the schedule.

Oh, and then the squad heads right to the Allianz Arena for a final tune-up against Bayern Munich on August 5. Whoever makes it through this gauntlet and into the starting eleven for the Leicester match will have certainly earned his place.

This preseason might lack some of Manchester United’s customary star power, but it nevertheless promises to be an exciting one. The scores might not count, but the performances sure do. Every minute on the pitch — whether in a match or training session — will impact who pulls on a red shirt next month against Leicester.

The future looks bright.