CARSON, Calif. – A record-setting crowd packed the Home Depot Center on Thursday evening to see Spanish giants Real Madrid thump the LA Galaxy 5-1, many of them eager to catch a glimpse of the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Xabi Alonso strutting their stuff.
And while Madrid's stars were on full display, the canteranos – graduates of Madrid's youth system – took center stage.
Though two Madrid's foreign stars struck twice within 11 minutes – Gonzalo Higuaín opened the scoring and Ángel di María added another – the canteranos took over from there.
GOAL: Granero sets up Morata with beautiful pass
José María Callejón, who came up through Madrid's youth ranks before spending 2008-11 at Espanyol, slotted home to restore Real's two-goal advantage towards the end of the first half, while two other players from Madrid's youth ranks – Esteban Granero (above) and Álvaro Morata – combined for the fourth just a few minutes into the second half. Finally, 19-year-old Jesé Rodríguez capped off the scoring by finishing off a fine Real Madrid move.
"They are very motivated," Granero, who spent time at Getafe before returning to Madrid, said of his younger counterparts. "They are helping us a lot and have had opportunities. We are on the right path and happy with the match we played."
Callejón credited Mourinho with inspiring confidence in the younger players, despite the fact that some of them are unlikely to see the first team once the regular season gets rolling.
“The manager is clear that he is confident in all the players, and it's clear that everyone is going to get minutes [in preseason] and we have to take advantage of them," Callejón said.
Despite his solid showing on the night, Jesé was realistic about his chances with the first team this year, explaining that once the season got underway, he would look to impress with the Castilla – Madrid’s reserve side, which will play in Spain’s second division this season.
“My obligation is to play in the Castilla,” he explained. “If I get an opportunity down the road then great, but my team is Castilla and I have to play there.”
So while fans might not see all of the youngsters that dazzled at the Home Depot Center on Thursday evening in Madrid’s upcoming campaign (though Callejón and Granero should be in line for playing time), they certainly served notice that the team’s strength goes beyond the international stars that seemingly come and go every summer.
And with Madrid making a habit of summer trips to Los Angeles, it might not be long before some of these younger players come back to the Home Depot Center as stars in their own right.