Manchester United coach Sir Alex Ferguson thinks Major League Soccer has made dramatic progress in recent years.
His team showed the best players in the MLS just how far the league still has to go.
Federico Macheda had two early goals, Mexican star Javier Hernandez scored in his Manchester United debut, and the Red Devils routed the MLS All-Stars 5-2 on Wednesday night in the final U.S. stop on their North American tour.
Darron Gibson and Tom Cleverley added goals for the Red Devils, tuning up for the start of the Premier League season next month.
Houston Dynamo star Brian Ching had a goal and an assist for the All-Stars, who were hoping for a validating victory against one of the world's pre-eminent soccer powers. Instead, Macheda scored twice in the first 13 minutes to quickly dash the hopes of the MLS team.
The Red Devils, who played without several top players, circled the field and applauded the fans after the game.
The sellout crowd was announced at 70,728, the largest for an MLS All-Star game since the first one in 1996 drew 78,416 to Giants Stadium. The attendance figure was the largest for a soccer game at Reliant Stadium, home of the NFL's Houston Texans.
"We were really delighted," Ferguson said. "When you go and play in the stadium, the size of the crowd and the atmosphere, you're motivated by that. I think that was a good omen for our players. To come out, see the stadium, good pitch, big crowd, it was perfect for them."
MLS All-Star teams had won five of their last six matchups against international competition, including a 1-0 win over former Premier League champion Chelsea in 2006. They were confident this week, eager to show how much improvement the league has made since its inception in 1996.
But the Red Devils, stinging after a 2-1 loss to Kansas City on Sunday, took a 1-0 lead before the smoke had cleared from the pregame fireworks display. Macheda intercepted a weak pass by defender Kevin Alston and chipped a low shot past goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts just 24 seconds into the game.
"He is outstanding in those positions," Ferguson said of Macheda. "You always feel very confident. When he went through, I expected him to score. It was a well-taken goal."
Macheda made it 2-0 in the 13th minute, beating Ricketts with a header off a corner kick by Nani.
The All-Stars got their best scoring chance of the half about 3 minutes later, when Juan Pablo Angel fired a direct kick that United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar punched over the crossbar. The Red Devils controlled possession from there and hardly allowed the All-Stars a decent scoring chance for the rest of the half.
"They are all in incredible shape and they can penetrate to the goal with just one or two passes," said MLS midfielder Dwayne De Rosario, who scored in the 90th minute. "They can really open you up, and they did that very effectively and caught us going forward."
American star Landon Donovan was among those who stayed on the MLS bench in the first half. Donovan and Los Angeles Galaxy teammate Edson Buddle played in a CONCACAF Champions League game Tuesday night in California and flew to Houston on Wednesday.
Ferguson inserted Hernandez in the 63rd minute, prompting roars from the thousands of Mexican fans in attendance. The Red Devils acquired the 22-year-old Hernandez in April, the club's first Mexican player.
Ching scored a minute later, heading in David Ferreira's free kick from the left side. The four-time All-Star was a second-half substitution by MLS coach Bruce Arena.
Hernandez got behind the All-Stars' defense in the 69th minute and was tackled by defender Wilman Conde, who earned a yellow card. Gibson converted the resulting free kick, curving a shot from just outside the penalty area into the upper left corner of the goal.
Cleverley scored about 3 minutes later, flipping the ball over Conde and beating backup goalkeeper Nick Rimando with a low left-footed shot.
Hernandez, a speedy striker, took a long pass from Paul Scholes and hooked a long shot over Rimando in the 84th minute for a 5-1 lead.
Ferguson thinks Hernandez is polished enough already to fit in the Premier League.
"There's still little things to do, but not a great deal in terms of his technique and things like that," Ferguson said. "I think once he gets used to our training, he'll be OK."
Donovan, the star of the U.S. World Cup team, trotted onto the field in the 74th minute, drawing a loud ovation.
"It's been really nice since I have been back to realize how many people cared about what was going on in South Africa," Donovan said. "For us, it's exciting and it's fun and it's emotional for us to be there. But when you come home and realize that they were there with you, it was special."
Manchester United will play Chivas Guadalajara on Friday in Mexico before returning to England. The Red Devils open their Premier League schedule on Aug. 16, against Newcastle.