PHILADELPHIA — After giving up two goals in the first 11 minutes to Real Madrid in Saturday night’s World Football Challenge match at Lincoln Financial Field, the Philadelphia Union could have easily gone down the same road as the Seattle Sounders, who earlier this week were drubbed by Manchester United by an ugly 7-0 score line.
Instead, the Union stared into the eyes of one of the best teams in the world and did not blink.
“I think each of us realized it’s just a normal game,” Union rookie left back Gabriel Farfan said. “We weren’t going against aliens. They were human beings. They had two legs and two arms.”
Whatever mind set they had, it certainly worked as the Union held it together in front of nearly 60,000 fans and even outplayed their Spanish visitors for much of the second half, before losing by a very respectable 2-1 margin.
“In the back of your mind, you’re hoping it doesn’t turn into a 4-0 debacle,” Union defender Danny Califf admitted. “But I think we settled down and showed some good character and basically fought hard.”
One reason why the Union players did not get too down on themselves after falling behind by an early deficit was because they know the two goals they surrendered were more a product of their own miscues rather than Real Madrid’s supreme talent.
They also believed that Sheanon Williams and Carlos Valdés, the defenders who misplayed the balls that led to the pair of tallies, would be able to bounce back, as they have throughout the season.
“I took my eye off the ball for a second and I just missed the ball,” said Williams, explaining what happened on Real’s first goal, a second-minute tally from José María Callejón. “It was a bad mistake on my part and I cost my team a goal. I just had to keep playing. You definitely can’t do anything about it, so you just try to make up for it.”
After Real’s Mesut Özil made it 2-0, the Union defense — as well as goalkeepers Faryd Mondragón and Zac MacMath — held down the fort as Real Madrid, perhaps tired from their three-games-in-one-week US tour, wore down.
And some of the Union’s youngest offensive players took advantage, with rookie Michael Farfan scoring his team’s only goal before Roger Torres and Jack McInerney nearly tied it with promising last-ditch efforts.
“Even after falling behind by two goals, I think we had some good chances,” Williams said. “It easily could have been 2-2, but we didn’t capitalize and they did. That was the difference.”
Added Califf, “I think we came back and showed some character — in a big way.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.