Friday, August 3, 2012

Real Madrid comes to town

The summer of 2005 marked the first of Real Madrid's US preseason tours.  It certainly wasn't the first time a major European club had visited the US - I remember seeing Man U at the Coliseum previously - but Real Madrid's visit was something special.  They were bringing the Galacticos.  We're talking Ronaldo.  Beckham.  Figo.  Raul.  Roberto Carlos.  and ZIDANE.

To this day, I will remember that game as one of the best sports experiences of my life.  Zidane, one year before his magical (and tragic) '06 World Cup run, was the greatest player in the world, though just past his prime.  And the dominance he had over that game was akin to seeing the likes of Jordan/Magic/Montana do their thing at the highest level.  It was one of those surreal moments in sports when you had always hoped to see the greatness of an athlete in person, but you absolutely cannot believe what you are witnessing while you are there, all the while knowing it would one of the greatest sports moments for the rest of your life.  (mute horrible music.

Back then, we soccer fans in the US could only glimpse of European soccer longingly from afar.  Periodically, they'd be on ESPN2 for Champions League, but otherwise, our access was limited.  So when RM came to town, we got to the game early, we waited at the entrance where their bus would descend under the stadium, we waved maniacally at Zidane & co as they drove by and probably giggled like school girls pretty much the whole freakin' time.  Pretty embarrassing as I think about it 7 years later, but hey, they were the GALACTICOS!

RM lineup in 2005: Casillas (Diego López, min. 81); Salgado (Diogo, min. 72), Helguera, Pavón, Roberto Carlos (Bravo, min.67), Beckham (Figo, min. 60), Gravesen, Guti (De la Red, min. 77), Zidane (Pablo García, min. 60), Raúl (Soldado, min. 69) and Owen (Soldado, min. 77).

All that to say, I went to the Madrid-Galaxy match last night.  We sat in the same endzone as 7 years ago, and it was again a thrill to see perhaps the best team in the world train against LA.  The tix in 2005 probably cost no more than $40.  This year, my friend paid more than $120 each for the same seats - he treated, we were forever grateful.  They say it was the most attended soccer match ever at Home Depot at 30k plus, but the atmosphere was certainly more muted than I remember from the 2005 match.  Sports celebrities were out in force for sure though - I saw a heavier Andrew Bynum, Darius Morris (does he count?), Junior dos Santos and Mike Piazza.

No, no one put on the dominating show like Zidane did, unless you count Di Maria's pure speed down the right flank, but I can't complain if I saw in person nearly every important player who contributed to their 2012 La Liga title, while beating down Barca en route.

RM lineup in 2012
First half: 1 I Casillas, 27 Nacho, 15 Fábio Coentrão, 18 R Albiol, 2 R Varane, 8 Kaká, 24 Lass Diarra, 22 Di MaríaGoal, 14 X Alonso, 20 G HiguaínGoal, 21 J CallejónGoal 
2nd half/subs: 6 S Khedira, 30 Álex Fernández, 17 Á Arbeloa, 11 E Granero, 10 M Özil, 3 Pepe, 28 JeséGoal, 25 Jesús, 5 N Sahin, 13 A Adán, 4 S Ramos, 23 MorataGoal, 9 K Benzema, 7 C Ronaldo

Its interesting that Mourinho actually deployed the better side for the 2nd half.  Heck, next time they should just play an intra-squad match so it'll be a closer game.  It was good to see Kaka for perhaps the last time he will appear in a Madrid shirt.  I hope he lands back at AC Milan and gets plenty of PT since he's really wasted 3 prime years on the bench.

Madrid did score 5 goals to Galaxy's 1, but clearly the most memorable moment was Ronaldo's ridiculous bicycle kick.  UCLA alum Brian Perk foolishly saved it, thus robbing 30K fans their full measure of satisfaction.  I think I'll just talk about it so much that 7 years from now, the story will have evolved to the best bi-kick goal we've ever seen.

Players I was excited to finally see: Ronaldo, Casillas, Kaka, Ozil, Khedira, Alonso, Ramos, Coentrao, Pepe, Di Maria, Benzema, Higuain.  Who needs a 4th defender with this group?  I'd just send 'em out there like this.

Di Maria-Alonso-Khedira-Ronaldo

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