LOS ANGELES – Whereas many of the top teams in world soccer have tended to vary their preseason plans from year to year, interspersing North American tours with trips to the Middle East, East Asia and Africa, Spanish giants Real Madrid seem quite at home in Los Angeles, having chosen the city as their preseason base camp for three years running.
And though the regular appearances have certainly helped increase the club’s exposure in the United States, they have also allowed Madrid’s players and staff more insight into the growth of US soccer than some of their counterparts across Europe might have.
“It’s the third year that I’ve come here [for preseason] to the United States and the truth is that every year that goes by, the players here have more quality and are much more competitive,” Real Madrid defender Pepe told reporters in a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
Madrid will kick off their World Football Challenge schedule when they face reigning MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy at The Home Depot Center on Thursday evening (7:30 pm ET, ESPN2), and Pepe believes the La Liga title-holders could be in for a tough time against their MLS foes, especially with the Galaxy’s season in full swing and the team in excellent form.
“Soccer is a universal sport and with certainty, this [game against the Galaxy] will be a difficult game for us,” the Portuguese international added.
Though Madrid have named a full complement of players to their tour roster, Tuesday’s training session raised fears that Xabi Alonso, one of Madrid’s leading players and a key cog in the Spain side that recently won Euro 2012, would be out after picking up a knock early on Tuesday morning.
However, Pepe assuaged those fears when speaking to reporters.
“It is normal that these things happen in a training session,” the 29-year-old explained. "There has been a test and he is already with the doctor, but I believe he will be in the afternoon session.”
That means barring any further injuries, Los Blancos’ stars should be ready to play on Thursday night. And though the combination of that star power and the recent history between the two teams – Madrid won their previous two meetings by a combined scoreline of 7-3 – may prove daunting for the Galaxy, if Pepe’s contention on the growth of US soccer holds true, audiences could be in for a close-fought duel at the Home Depot Center.