WFC Preview: Upstart Union, red-hot Real Madrid face off
With their eyes on the Herbalife World Football Challenge championship, Real Madrid roll into Philadelphia for an international friendly against the Union on Saturday night (9 pm ET, ESPN Deportes & ESPN 3) at Lincoln Financial Field. Real Madrid are coming off convincing wins earlier this week over the LA Galaxy and CD Guadalajara, and will look to wrap up their US tour with a perfect 3-0 mark.
The Union, meanwhile, come into Saturday’s game fresh of an impressive triumph of their own, having toppled Everton F.C. of the English Premier League, 1-0, at PPL Park on Wednesday. The Union are now 3-1 all-time in international exhibitions, with their one loss coming last year at the Linc to mighty Manchester United.
After a disappointing inaugural season in 2010, the Union have become one of the better teams in MLS this year. Bolstered by the additions of goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón, defender Carlos Valdés, midfielder Brian Carroll and striker Carlos Ruiz, the Union have ascended to the top of the Eastern Conference table with an 8-4-7 overall record.
Besides their increased veteran presence, the Union have also shown throughout the season to have a deep stable of young talent. Much of that was on full display during their win over Everton on Wednesday as the Union rested many of their regulars and gave some time to rookies and academy players. The youngsters performed admirably vs. Everton, but are sure to have much more difficulty against a far better and more seasoned Real side.
Still, no matter the result of Saturday’s game, the two friendlies will have provided a nice test for the Union before they return to MLS competition with a home game against Colorado on July 29.
Fans from all around the Philly area will pack 68,000-seat Lincoln Financial Field to get a glimpse of Real Madrid, one the world’s most decorated clubs. And the Spanish superpower surely won’t disappoint, as they brought a full arsenal with them for their US tour, including such renowned stars as Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká, Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso.
A nine-time European champion and 31-time champion of Spain’s La Liga, Real Madrid was voted by FIFA as the most successful club of the 20th century. Most recently, they captured their 18th Copa del Rey championship in April.
Even though Jose Mourinho, the 2010 FIFA World Coach of the Year, hasn’t been playing his top guys for a full 90 during the US tour, Real have still been able to put on a show in front of their American fans with an exciting brand of European football.
Philadelphia Union key player: Faryd Mondragón
Philly’s 40-year-old goalkeeper has been as valuable for his vocal leadership as for his shot-stopping abilities, and was recently selected as the club’s only All-Star. Mondragón was given the night off against Everton, but will likely play at least a half against Real Madrid.
Real Madrid key player: Cristiano Ronaldo
According to most people who follow the sport, the Portuguese goal-scoring phenom is either the best soccer player in the world or the second best player, and it’s really not up for the debate. Ronaldo, the 2008 FIFA World Player of the Year who set La Liga’s scoring record last season, has already netted four goals through two World Football Challenge games.