Jeff Cunningham

MLS has a point to prove in Madrid

MADRID - Starting with coach Steve Nicol and following with players such as Landon Donovan, Youri Djorkaeff and Pablo Mastroeni, the MLS Select Team is trying to show the importance of their visit to the European arena: MLS is growing, and the Trofeo Santiago Bernabéu is the best showroom.

"This is a great opportunity to show the true level of soccer in the U.S.," said Youri Djorkaeff of the MetroStars, who won the World Cup with France in 1998.

Still, Djorkaeff expressed his concern for the brief time the team has had to prepare for the game.

"We have not had time to play together. In any case the players will bring out their pride, capacity and quality to control Real Madrid and play like we know how to. We want to prove all Spain that we can play at this level," he said Monday at a press conference in advance of the game.

The match will also provide the meeting of Djorkaeff with French national teammate Zinedine Zidane: "I'm really happy playing against him. I think he's in good shape - a few days ago I watched his game with France and I was happy for his return. It'll be great for the national team. I'm also happy seeing Ronaldo again, we played together in Italy."

MLS Select coach Nicol is defending with pride the chances for his team. "It's a great honor to receive an invitation from Real Madrid - we want to show a good image. We want to clearly show how much soccer in the USA is growing. I've heard someone critizicing Real Madrid's defense, but I'd love to see all of them playing in my league."

Another participant in the press conference was Colorado Rapids defender Pablo Mastroeni. "It's a privilege to be here, because all of Europe's eyes will be watching us. We want to be able to get a good result."

One of the most famous soccer players in North America is Landon Donovan, who played for Bayer Leverkusen in Germany and now plays for the Galaxy in Los Angeles:

"We're happy to be here. But we have not come to watch Real Madrid's stars. We want to play and be competitive although we have not had the ideal preparation for the game. We have the right mentality to play a good game and we want to win," Donovan said.

Before the press conference the team had some free time to tour around the city and their opinion about the city was it was fantastic.

"It's a wonderful city, it's hot like in California. I loved their people and their women. It's a great experience. We visited the Prado museum, but the visit was fast and we had to skip some paintings," Donovan said.

Getting used to Madrid

Nicol will only enjoy one practice session in Estadio Santiago Bernabeu to prepare his MLS Select team before Tuesday's game for the Trofeo Santiago Bernabéu. This practice was good for the players to relax the muscles and after the long trip and the first part was focused on stretching exercises. The players were amazed of the size of Real Madrid's stadium where on Tuesday they will be watched by thousands.

In the final stages of the practice they focused more on practicing with the ball. The emerging image of Major League Soccer will be at their feet and they all want to leave a good mark in one of Europe's soccer temples.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.

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