D.C. United to face Real Madrid in friendly
WASHINGTON -- The rest of the world may be singing the praises of their archrivals FC Barcelona in the wake of Barça's thrilling UEFA Champions League triumph on Wednesday. But a day later, D.C. United was seeing nothing but white as the Black-and-Red officially announced a friendly against Real Madrid, the most successful club in European history, on Aug. 9 at FedEx Field.The match represents a rematch for the two squads, who played out a compelling 1-1 draw at Qwest Field in Seattle three years ago, entertaining a record-breaking crowd of 66,830 spectators whose passion would turn out to be a preview of the spirited environs at Sounders FC home games this season. Los Merengues evoke tradition and devotion in a way that few clubs can match and those who were present at that 2006 occasion still remember it vividly."A capacity crowd -- the biggest group of fans that I've ever had the chance to play in front of," recalled Bryan Namoff, one of five current United players who saw action against Real that night. "What an experience. Not only to play in front of that big a fan base, but to play against the powerhouse. Real Madrid is a household name, whether or not you are a soccer fan."Beyond their continental exploits, Madrid have won the Spanish Primera League 31 times and claimed the Copa del Rey, Spain's domestic cup tourney, on 17 occasions.But in the wake of Barcelona's ascendancy, the Bernabeu-based side has been beset by internal strife of late and with the club's presidential elections scheduled for next month, a dazzling array of international superstars like Kaka (currently with AC Milan) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United) have been linked to Real. Their signing would add further explosiveness to what would already be a highly-anticipated showdown at FedEx Field, one of the largest professional sports venues in the United States."I mean, this match is a friendly in all terms, but we're going to be going against some of the best players in the world," said D.C. rookie standout Chris Pontius. "The history that Real Madrid has is unbelievable and to be given an opportunity to play against them, I know all the guys on the team are excited about it."The friendly's confirmation necessitated a rescheduling of a league match against Kansas City and it will arrive at a congested period in United's schedule, coinciding with the onset of CONCACAF Champions League competition.But that is a background concern for D.C., especially the club's talented youngsters, who will be eager to test themselves against the pinnacle of their profession, players they've thus far only watched on transatlantic broadcasts. Pontius and his roommate Rodney Wallace tune in to their international soccer channels every day after training and he describes the prospect of facing off against those stars as "unreal.""Anytime Real and Barcelona are on TV, I'll be watching," said the Cal-Santa Barbara graduate, whose three goals and two assists in 781 minutes of action have vaulted him into early Rookie of the Year contention. "Every day me and Rodney come home and we turn on Fox Soccer Channel or GolTV. We watch it a lot."United traditionally perform well in meetings with international competition. D.C. hosted English powerhouse Chelsea FC at FedEx in 2005 and jumped out to a shock lead before falling by a 2-1 scoreline as the Black-and-Red enjoyed superior possession, but fell short in the finishing department. Namoff endured a tough start to the 2006 match against Real, losing a one-on-one battle with Italian livewire Antonio Cassano on Madrid's goal, but he says it's the sort of challenge every professional craves."You want to take on players of that caliber because it will make you a better player in the end. Different talents that you don't get to play routinely in the league. ... See how good the best really is, and where you measure up," said United's veteran right back. "We've always done pretty well and we've always been competitive with these games."Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com.