CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy relish their annual encounter with Real Madrid, which resumes Thursday night at The Home Depot Center (10:30 pm ET, ESPN2). If only the game fit gingerly into their schedule.
There's a critical Western Conference showdown at Seattle coming Sunday, but LA can't put too much emphasis on that one until this one is done, and that breeds conflicting emotions about one of the marquee events in this summer's World Football Challenge.
“There's never really good timing for these things,” captain Landon Donovan said following Wednesday's training session. “It always comes in the middle of the season, so in that way it's a little burdensome – but at the end of the day, who doesn't want to play against Real Madrid? And in our own stadium. We're very lucky we get to do that.”
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena says the approach is the same as for last week's friendly against Tottenham Hotspur – spread the minutes all around, no more than 45 (or perhaps 60) by anyone, put on the best show possible for the fans – which is the same it's been in previous meetings, Real Madrid victories in 2005 (2-0), 2010 (3-2) and 2011 (4-1).
It's certainly a special event for the fans, but the opportunity to test yourself against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká, Mesut Özil and Gonzalo Higuaín – against José Mourinho – adds to the excitement for the players.
“The talent [at Real] is pretty impressive,” Donovan said, “but I think what I'm most impressed with it they come into these games, that realistically mean nothing, and they play really hard, and they play like it's a game that means something. I'm very “impressed by that.
It would be easy for a club of that caliber, that just won La Liga, to come here and say, 'You know, we're just going to kind of mess around and just take it casual.' But I promise they'll come here tomorrow, and they'll play it like it's a real game.”
The Galaxy need to match that intensity – “If you're not alert, they can put four, five, six, seven goals on you,” Donovan noted – and plan to.
“Listen, we're not going into tomorrow's game thinking we're going to do Real Madrid a favor and just let them pass the ball around and get their fitness out,” said forward Robbie Keane, who isn't particularly fond of friendlies. “Every game we're involved in, we want to win.”
The Irishman readily acknowledges it's “a great honor and a great privilege” to play against a team of Real Madrid's magnitude, “but our bread and butter is on Sunday and against a team that we can do something [against]. In Seattle, if we get three points, it pushes us up the table.”
There won't be much time to prepare for that one – Arena says he won't give it any thought until Friday. Another victim of timing.
“[The timing is] terrible, to be totally honest with you,” Keane said. “The timing of these situations is never great. ... We're not going to win the championship by beating Real Madrid.”