United hope to grow from Madrid match

LANDOVER, Md. -- It's not every day that the most successful club in European soccer history drops in to visit a Major League Soccer team, and most of D.C. United's squad will never again share the field with a team possessing the skill and notoriety of the Real Madrid side that they faced on Sunday afternoon. Many of the Black-and-Red might never even play in front of a crowd as large as the one that packed into cavernous FedEx Field to watch the action despite sweltering weather conditions.But exceptional circumstances, celestial opposition and celebratory atmosphere notwithstanding, Tom Soehn's proud, competitive bunch were out to secure a positive result against their illustrious guests and there was no talk of moral victories after United succumbed to Real by a 3-0 score in front of a festive horde of 72,368 spectators."I think we represented D.C. well, but we're professional athletes and a 3-0 loss is still a 3-0 loss," said D.C. veteran Ben Olsen, who defied the day's heat and humidity with 58 minutes of vigorous effort in midfield. "Maybe in the end we were just outmatched."Los Merengues evinced their class from the opening whistle -- Cristiano Ronaldo's feints, tricks and stopovers providing the most conspicuous examples -- yet United gamely kept pace with the Madridistas for nearly an hour before Real struck for three goals in a 12-minute span in the second half.Showing little fear despite the unique setting, D.C. enjoyed plenty of midfield possession and goalkeeper Josh Wicks made a series of clutch saves, including a highlight-reel block of an Esteban Granero blast."He continues to grow, and he made a couple big saves for us," said D.C. boss Tom Soehn of his netminder. "The whole team defended really well. We were able to pressure their backs and turn them back. We won some balls in great spots. We want to continue to build and understand what we're about, how we play, but we want to make sure we continue to do it for 90 minutes. That's difficult to do against a team like Real Madrid who has world-class subs."Indeed, the game-winning charge was led by Gonzalo Higuain and Arjen Robben, two mainstays from last year's Madrid squad who will have to work hard to carve out significant roles for themselves in the season to come.Transfer rumors have been swirling around both players, but after the match Madrid's new coach Manuel Pellegrini paid tribute to their contributions and insisted that no one on his squad has been thrust into the shop window."His performance doesn't change anything today," he said of Higuain, who notched a brace of goals in a three-minute span in the second half. "He was never a player who was on the transfer block. He's just another player on the team who had opportunities and he took advantage of those opportunities today."While Higuain earned the start alongside star additions Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo, Robben came off the bench to start the second half and his jinking runs played a central role in unlocking the D.C. defense."I hoped to start today, because I didn't start the game [Friday in Toronto]. But I played 45 minutes and it's the only thing you can do, try to prove that you can be important for this team," said the Dutch international."There are so many good players in this team and it's going to be hard, fighting for a spot. But I'm up for it and I think I go with a lot of confidence to the new season."Despite the loss, United can also move on from the occasion with a notable boost in self-belief that could serve them well in the season's stretch run, especially given the promising performances put forth by youngsters like Chris Pontius and Rodney Wallace."It's pretty overwhelming for some guys who came out of college and now are playing in front of 75,000 people against Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka," said Soehn. "It was a pretty special day and hopefully we all grow from it."