Real Madrid Tops D.C. United, 3-0, in Exhibition
Monday, August 10, 2009
When the halftime whistle sounded Sunday at broiling FedEx Field, D.C. United and Real Madrid players walked side by side toward the south tunnel and the promise of cool shelter. Despite massive differences in global appeal, history and payroll, the clubs found themselves on level terms on the scoreboard and, to a large extent, in performance.
It was a proud moment for United, scoreless with soccer royalty in a friendly before 72,368 sun-drenched spectators, the largest non-doubleheader audience in its 14-season history.
The thought of United maintaining its discipline for another half, however, was too much to fancy, and in a 12-minute stretch, Arjen Robben's swift runs and Gonzalo Higuain's finishing touch shattered the MLS club's resistance during Real's 3-0 victory.
"We play well for 55 minutes [but] good teams have to play for 90," United captain Jaime Moreno said. "It's a hard lesson for us. It was great to play against a team that is one of the best in the world, a great experience for everyone."
United's downfall didn't actually begin until the 57th minute when Higuain, a 21-year-old forward in his fourth season with the Spanish power, blazed into the penalty area. Two minutes later, he was the beneficiary of Robben's explosive move, and in the 69th, Robben lifted the ball to himself while at a full pace and cleverly chipped a shot over reserve goalkeeper Milos Kocic.
The one-sided score was hardly an embarrassment for United, which had two starters less than a year out of college and another who was playing in the third tier of the U.S. pro system last season. Real's lineup included Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka, the past two world players of the year, and other pricey superstars coveted by almost every other club on the planet.
Three years ago, United played Real to a 1-1 tie in Seattle, and although that Madrid side featured English star David Beckham, the roster on display at FedEx Field was one of the most expensive ever assembled. The marquee players weren't United's undoing; rather, it was Robben, the 25-year-old Dutchman who entered at halftime and almost single-handedly changed the course of the match.
To that point, although United didn't generate many quality scoring opportunities, it held respectable possession, didn't make defensive mistakes and disrupted Real's attacking flow. Goalkeeper Josh Wicks made an excellent diving save on Esteban Granero's rocket from the top of the penalty area, defender Marc Burch held off Ronaldo and rookie Rodney Wallace won the ball from Kaka.
"They didn't have the time to make the plays that makes them special," midfielder Ben Olsen said.
United's approach was significantly more effective than that exhibited by Toronto FC on Friday night, when Real began its MLS tour with three goals in the first 25 minutes and rolled to a 5-1 victory.
"We watched that game and we didn't want to sit back as much as [Toronto] did," rookie Chris Pontius said. "We wanted to go after them, and if Ronaldo is running at us, we're not going to give him the space."
Said Real Coach Manuel Pellegrini: "We played much better against Toronto, but today we had a more difficult opponent."
United's finest chance to score came in the first minute of the second half when Fred's well-struck 25-yarder was pushed over the crossbar by goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
The rest of the sweltering afternoon belonged to Real. Five minutes after Wicks made a superb right-hand save on the shifty Robben, Higuain collected the ball in space, dodged central defender Greg Janicki and beat Wicks to the far corner.
Two minutes passed before Robben raced between Janicki and Dejan Jakovic and steered the ball to the free-running Higuain, who dribbled around the charging Wicks and tucked an angled shot into an open net.
With the intense heat taking a toll and the outcome largely determined, both coaches began wholesale substitutions. In official matches, teams are limited to three changes, but because this was a friendly, Pellegrini and United Coach Tom Soehn combined for 16 personnel moves.
Robben stretched the lead with his cheeky chip over Kocic, who after watching the ball float over his head, scrambled back and nearly prevented the goal.
All that remained were additional substitutions and United's attempts to avoid a shutout. D.C. thought it broke through, but Christian Gómez's apparent goal was negated by an offside call.
"They played very well in the first half," Ronaldo said of United. "It's a team that plays good soccer. We enjoyed playing here and it was a very nice experience."
For United's players, as well.
"You look up, you see 70,000 people and you're going up against some of your favorite players," Jakovic said. "My favorite player is Kaka, and here he is running at me. It definitely hits you."
Soccer Notes: Just 16 days after having hernia surgery, Clyde Simms returned to the field for the final 27 minutes. . . . Midfielder Ely Allen, signed two weeks ago, made his United debut. . . . Real forward Karim Benzema and midfielder Lassana Diarra were not in uniform after playing 90 minutes in Toronto. . . . A pregame moment of silence was observed for Daniel Jarque, captain of the Spanish club Espanyol, who died of a heart attack Saturday. He was 26. . . .
Spectators included White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, a former goalie at North Carolina State; Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; and U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati. Gibbs visited the United locker room afterward.