CARSON, Calif. - Real Madrid came calling at The Home Depot Center on Monday night, all of their galacticos in tow in a marvelous atmosphere. And while many in the crowd might have expected a blowout, in reality the Los Angeles Galaxy gutted out a solid performance before finally dropping a 2-0 result on goals from Michael Owen and Roberto Soldado.
Despite facing a star-studded lineup filled with the biggest names in the game, the Galaxy didn't try to sit back and defend. Their opposition didn't overwhelm them either. Instead they came out and played their game, and while they were outplayed for stretches of the game, they showed for a night that the gap between MLS and the top leagues in Europe isn't as huge as some observers believe.
"You have to play with confidence instead of just trying to participate and play on your heels," said Galaxy coach Steve Sampson after the game. "You have to attack and try to create opportunities and try and show the fans and show ourselves that we can create some chances and try and win the game. And I think our boys did that tonight."
The crowd filled The Home Depot Center to capacity and then some. But while the Real Madrid stars were certainly the main attraction, the hearts of the fans in the stands certainly seemed to be with the hometown club.
"I think if you talked to the guys on the other team they'd say they were impressed by the level of soccer. Especially for a league that's only been around for the past 10 years," said goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, the man of the match for the Galaxy on Monday night. "I think we did ourselves a bit of justice tonight."
Of all the players who impressed for the Galaxy tonight, it was Hartman who had the biggest night. In all, Hartman made seven saves on the night - two from the boot of Brazilian Roberto Carlos, whose left foot is nearly as famous as David Beckham's right. He also had an impressive sequence in the second half, stealing the ball off the foot of Luis Figo who was in alone on a breakaway. An instant later, Hartman smothered a rebound shot from Owen in what were his two best saves of the night.
Only slightly less impressive was the play of Chris Albright. Albright, who missed more than a month with a knee injury, returned to the Galaxy lineup for the first time on Saturday against Chivas USA, when he came on as a second-half substitute.
On Monday night, Albright started the match and was oftentimes forced to go toe to toe with Roberto Carlos. The Philadelphia native - recently named as a reserve to the All-Star team - more than held his own, and even forced the Brazilian superstar to do some defending of his own.
Carlos is known for his attacking runs out of defense, and Albright fills much the same role for Sampson's side. It stands to reason considering Albright was a standout forward while at the University of Virginia, and then started his career with D.C. United as an attacking player.
Albright made the transition to defense a few seasons ago, and talked about going up against Carlos after the game.
"Since making the change to the back, he (Roberto Carlos) is one of the guys who I've idolized," said Albright. "He's such a great defender, and great going forward. I was just a pleasure going against him."
To a man it seemed as though the Galaxy were ready to go another 90 minutes against the Spanish side. While as competitors a win is the ultimate goal for any team, the performance they put in Monday night wasn't just for them, it was for all of MLS.
"This is the kind of opportunity that doesn't come around very often," said Hartman. "When you look at it from that perspective, you realize what great players you played against. You realize what a great opportunity the Galaxy and MLS had tonight."
Nearly a century of history separates the inception of the two clubs that played in Carson tonight. Yet on the field, both teams showed that soccer isn't that far apart when defined by the play on the field, something that Albright was quick to point out after the game.
"I think the public perception was that they (Real Madrid) could come in here and win 7-0, and not think twice about it. I think we opened some of their players' eyes too," said Albright. "I mean, there's a 90-year difference in the two clubs histories."
In addition, the Galaxy put up their fight without the services of arguably the best player in all of MLS. Landon Donovan has been the center of the Galaxy so far this season, but was unavailable to his club due to national team commitments. The final result might not have changed, but all in attendance were likely left wondering what might have been had one of the best strikers to ever lace up his cleats in MLS been available.
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.