Michael Owen has never stayed awake back home in England through the wee hours of the morning to watch the occasional Major League Soccer match shown on Britain's Channel 5, but he is pretty certain of one thing.
If the Los Angeles Galaxy's play in Monday's friendly with nine-time European Cup winner Real Madrid was any indication of the quality of MLS, Owen believes the league is making forward progress in attempting to legitimize itself as a first- or second-tier league in world soccer.
The Galaxy's chances were few and far between but its effort and determination never wavered in a 2-0 exhibition defeat to the Spanish giant at Home Depot Center.
"I thought the Galaxy played quite well," said Owen, the English international striker who opened the scoring in the sixth minute. "We know of a few of their players, like (Cobi) Jones and (Landon) Donovan. Obviously, Donovan wasn't here.
"Soccer in America is a growing sport. It's not easy to play against a team of Real Madrid's quality. They love their sport in America and they have the people to do it. I can see (MLS) growing and becoming a good league in the next 10 years. It's nice to see that football is so popular in America."
Officially, the crowd was announced at 27,000, but it seemed as though a few thousand extra tickets were sold as the Galaxy opened up the grass field below the north-end scoreboard for fans to sit. Unofficially, it may have been the largest Home Depot Center crowd to ever watch a soccer game.
The atmosphere was alive from pre-match warmups and lineup introductions. Real's star-studded lineup drew just slightly more applause from the crowd as the home team did throughout.
"Amazing. Amazing," said Real midfielder and England captain David Beckham. "I think the best part for me was the (singing of the U.S.) national anthem. I got goose bumps. I love L.A. It's a great place to live. I come here a lot for vacation."
Added Real midfielder Guti: "We've been well-received in L.A. The game played out well for both sides. The Galaxy is a good side and I hope things go well for them."
Six of Real Madrid's seven 'Galacticos' played, with an unfit Ronaldo not making an appearance and Luis Figo playing the final half hour.
Real won both of its friendlies in the U.S. (also beating Chivas of Guadalajara 3-1 in Chicago on Saturday) and left late Monday night for Thailand to embark on its tour of Asia.
"It's early days for us but it's been a nice exercise, to come out to America," Owen said. "Perhaps, if we come out here again in three years time, we'll have an even tougher match. I think that's the plan for our club, to come out to America and Asia every couple of years during the preseason."
In losing its first match at home this year, the Galaxy had one shot on goal in each half -- Herculez Gomez's 38th-minute drive straight at Real keeper Iker Casillas and Jovan Kirovski's 52nd-minute free kick from 27 yards to the near post, which Casillas dove to save -- and looked slightly dangerous in a couple brief spurts.
Yet, Real Madrid was impressed with the Galaxy's will to go forward. Real, as expected, calmly held the ball over long stretches with much one- and two-touch movement, relegating the Galaxy mostly to poaching on counterattacks.
"They were very committed. They wanted to win. They showed that," said Beckham, who asked to come off in the 61st minute after tweaking his right hamstring following a 25-yard free kick attempt on goal. It was his only free kick, conducted to a flood of flash bulbs from the crowd.
"I had two sore hamstrings after the (Chivas de Guadalajara) game in Chicago (Saturday)," Beckham added. "I thought it was just stiffness, but maybe it's a little bit more."
Owen thought Hartman to be the Galaxy's man of the match. Hartman blocked two loaded Roberto Carlos blasts from distance, and in one sequence he stopped Figo on a one-on-one situation and then blocked Owen's follow-up. Hartman joked afterward that "I felt like I broke my hand five times."
"I was impressed with the goalkeeper," Owen said. "We know there's quite a few good (U.S.) goalkeepers in the (English) Premier League now."
Owen opened Real's account in cutting back an open, eight-yard shot in the sixth minute over a sliding Hartman. Central midfield maestro Zinedine Zidane, constantly drawing oohs and aahs from the crowd with his ball control, deft passes and overall technical ability, played Owen onto goal ahead of ballwatching Galaxy rookie defender Ugo Ihemelu.
Striker substitute Roberto Soldado scored in the 75th minute, five minutes after he came on for Raul, on a cracking strike to the left-side netting from atop the penalty area.
Damian Secore is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.