United Passes Test, Ties Real Madrid

Real Madrid's David Beckham, left, looks on as United's Josh Gros goes high for a header in Seattle.
Real Madrid's David Beckham, left, looks on as United's Josh Gros goes high for a header in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren - AP)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 10, 2006; 2:18 AM

SEATTLE, Aug. 9 -- It was the stuff of European excellence: superb one-touch passing in tight space and a dynamic strike from the top of the penalty area, a raucous celebration on the field and in the jam-packed stands.

It was not a goal by Real Madrid, the world superpower that had traveled across nine time zones to entertain a sellout crowd of 66,830 at Qwest Field on Wednesday night.

The passing combination was a product of D.C. United, the humble MLS front-runner and secondary attraction. It was started by Freddy Adu, went through Josh Gros, then to Christian Gomez and Jaime Moreno before Alecko Eskandarian smashed it into the lower right corner to tie the friendly in the 25th minute.

Technically, the 1-1 tie meant nothing for either club. Emotionally, it meant everything for United, which outpaced Real for many stretches and evened the game in breathtaking style just three minutes after falling behind on Antonio Cassano's goal.

"We put them to the test a little bit," midfielder Ben Olsen said. "We're not going to win the [European] Champions League now, but I think we showed ourselves well and showed the league well. That was important for us to do because we're always under that microscope."

When the teams trotted onto the temporary grass field an hour before kickoff, the swooning over David Beckham, and to some extent Adu, began in earnest. A "Beckham for President" banner was unfurled and a swarm of teenage girls held up placards spelling out the pretty English midfielder's name.

One agitator expressed his disgust with the Galacticos, standing about 10 rows back on the east sideline while whipping an FC Barcelona flag.

United received a warm ovation, but nothing compared to Real's reception. New coach Fabio Capello kept his recently acquired Italian defender Fabio Cannavaro, as well as emerging Brazilian star Robinho, on the bench at the start.

Conversely, D.C. Coach Peter Nowak didn't mess with the lineup, calling on his fine-tuned regulars for the highest-profile match in the club's 11-year history.

Goalkeeper Troy Perkins was tested right away, needing to punch out Beckham's free-kick cross deep in the box in the opening minute. United responded two minutes later as Moreno missed the short side from eight yards, and Perkins made the first of several nice saves by stopping Ruud van Nistelrooy's low bid in the 18th minute.

United displayed superior fitness and organization in the early going -- not a surprise considering D.C. is in midseason form while Real is still more than two weeks from its season opener. Having played several European teams over the years, United did not appear the slightest bit intimidated by its glamorous opponent and moved the ball confidently and crisply.

"They made it a really tough game for us," van Nistelrooy said. "They showed they're a very good football team."

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