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Match report: Union 1-2 Real Madrid

Featured image: Earl Gardner

You can forgive the Union for being a little star-struck. For being caught up in the moment. After all, the outcome of this match meant, ultimately, nothing.

Real Madrid scored two goals in the first ten minutes and withstood a late spell of Union pressure to sneak out of Philadelphia with a 2-1 win on Saturday night in front of 57,305 at Lincoln Financial Field.

The Copa del Rey Champions and La Liga runner’s up fielded a strong lineup build around mercurial French striker Karim Benzema, German playmaker Mesut Ozil and Spanish distributor Xabi Alonso. All would be involved in the early goals.

Early goals

In the second minute, Alonso dropped deep to receive a pass and spotted Jose Callejon streaking down the left channel. Known for his ability to spread the ball around, Alonso did not disappoint. His direct ball traveled sixty yards and crept between Carlos Valdes and Sheanon Williams, finding Callejon in stride for the young striker to finish around a helpless Faryd Mondragon.

Real Madrid’s fans, and many in the crowd were supporting the away side, roared their approval.

The visitors continued to dictate play, with an energetic Ozil popping up all over and Benzema acting every bit the future of French soccer he purported to be only two years ago.

With Madrid’s stars in fine form, they certainly did not need any help from the Union. But in the tenth minute, Carlos Valdes gave it to them anyway. Another long ball from the back was aimed at Benzema. Valdes beat the striker to the spot, but tried to turn and dribble out of the back. Benzema dispossessed the Union defender and waited for a streaking Ozil to arrive in the box. His pinpoint pass was handled with a delicately exquisite first touch by the German, who hit his finish high above a sliding Danny Califf and a stranded Mondragon.

Union up off the mat

Where they could have folded, the Union rallied.

In the 13th, Sebastien Le Toux’s corner kick curled onto the head of a diving Danny Califf. The shot skimmed outside Iker Casillas’s far post, but just having an opportunity to score infused the Union with confidence.

The next twenty minutes were a back and forth affair in which both sides had stunning chances to change the scoreline.

In the 14th, Le Toux’s trademark high pressure resulted in Casillas clownishly running away from the Frenchman – across goal – with the ball. His clearance hit Kyle Nakazawa, but the Union midfielder did little with the opportunity. Nakazawa and Keon Daniel both struggled with the pace of the game and the limited space they were afforded. And while their jitters showed through, Justin Mapp, Sebastien Le Toux and Carlos Ruiz were too uninvolved to show nerves or confidence.

It was not until the 19th minute that Ruiz and Le Toux began to find pockets of space in the Madrid defense. Le Toux turned to run at Ricardo Carvalho down the right. He played Ruiz checking in and took off down the channel. Ruiz’s through ball sent the Frenchman through, but Casillas closed down the angles well and Le Toux’s finish was all too representative of his season.

Madrid respond through Ozil

This move seemed to scare Madrid into life, and after earning a free kick on the left off of Williams, they nearly had a third. The outswinger bounced around the box until it ended up with Carvalho, who smacked a half-volley at net that Valdes swatted away with a diving tackle.

In the 28th minute, Ozil was at it again. The German’s change of pace allowed him to streak up the right and coolly lay off for Benzema, who drew a defender and dinked wide left for Callejon to waltz in alone on Mondragon. The Union goalie, no small man to begin with, made himself big and blocked the shot out of bounds.

Mondragon’s aggressive attitude was infectious, and Justin Mapp was the first victim. He collected a soft Williams clearance and took off on a jinky run up the right. Never one to hang out in back when the ball is moving forward, Williams took off for the goal mouth. Mapp slipped through two defenders and hit a low cross into the box that eluded both Carvalho and Williams inside the six.

Ruiz in in!

Where the first twenty-five minutes had seen Madrid maintain a tight defensive shape, they suddenly lost the plot. Nakazawa collected a loose ball and fired a through pass to Daniel. It was deflected to Ruiz, who was out on his own. The Guatemalan took two touches, the second of which ran away from him. An aggressive Casillas was out of his box to clear and Ruiz was left holding his head in his hands.

Clearly, the Union were in the ascendancy. But they needed an end product. In the 38th, Le Toux capped a strong half by winning a free kick to the right of the box. Nakazawa hit a fine ball in that was half-cleared to Gabriel Farfan at the top of the box. He drilled a shot that deflected off a defender and was cleared by Carvalho.

In the 44th, Ruiz earned a free kick of his own at the top of the box, but his shot on goal was high and wide.

Second half changes

The second half featured new Madrid signing Fabio Coentrao and fashion icon world superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Union amped up their star power by introducing Danny Mwanga, Michael Farfan and Roger Torres. It was to be a half of fewer chances but encouraging play from the home side.

Young talent shows their worth

Roger Torres put in a typical Jekyll and Hyde performance. After starting the half with two exquisite passes to unlock the Madrid defense, Torres spent fifteen minutes dribbling into pressure and looking for the perfect pass.

Meanwhile, Michael Farfan looked like Forrest Gump on a football field, fearlessly running at the Madrid defense as if he were facing an ACC opponent in college. Marfan and Garfan both played with an impressive, confident style that should translate into continued production in the second half of the MLS season.

With Mapp moved to the left, Marfan was taking on Madrid’s left back Marcelo, known more for his offense than his ability to shut down the opposition. Using Le Toux as his wall, the Union winger played quick one-twos all half and carried the Union into the offensive third with skill and will power during the opening minutes of the second half.

Ronaldo is a boring jerk and should pretend to try because, like, its a friendly and why not

By contrast, Madrid’s big-name winger looked listless all night. Ronaldo got on the end of a Benzema cross and headed wide in the 56th. Minutes later, he cut onto his right and fired wide of MacMath’s goal. Beyond those two moments, he might as well have stayed in Spain.

Showing great trust in Williams – and later in Richter (although Ronaldo moved right to test Garfan and Marfan) – Peter Nowak pulled no one back to help with the Portuguese goal machine. In fact, facing the most expensive man in soccer seemed to galvanize Williams and Valdes out of their first half malaise.

My real name is Awesome, but you may call me Michael

But the big moment of the game came with ten minutes remaining and involved no European superstars. Danny Mwanga, excellent throughout the half, collected a pass from Michael Farfan with his back to goal. Turning, Mwanga spotted Farfan continuing his run into the box and played him in. Eighteen yards from goal and just wide right of the frame, Farfan felt Marcelo closing in from behind. He noted the position of the keeper with his peripheral vision and instantly decided to chip it over the Madrid netminder. The beautifully weighted shot drifted over Meija’s head and nestled in the back of the net as Marfan casually turned and jogged over to the Union bench to celebrate. No big deal, just a stunning and cheeky goal against the most expensive team ever assembled. In front of 57,000. Whatev.

Chances at the end

For the final ten minutes, the Union looked like they might find a tying goal. The best chance came from Jack McInerney, who cut onto his right and unleashed a skimmer that Meija had to slap around his post.

When the final whistle, blew, the Madrid players quickly retreated from the field. The white jerseys scurrying away without clapping to the fans or exchanging many jerseys was not unexpected.

And it certainly summed up a match that saw the Philadelphia Union make an indelible impression on the Spanish giants.


  1. Great game. Very enjoyable. I hope the Union picked up some fans last night.

    The defense did not have time to orient itself before R. Madrid took the lead. The big boys capitalize on their chances. One, two and they had a couple of goals.

    Valdez at one point figured he was playing an MLS side when he was easily dispossessed in the box.

    I’m not sure if R. Madrid really came out to play or the Union surprised them with their durability.

    Either way the preseason R. Madrid did not over exert itself in the Philadelphia heat wave. Judging from their initial success the game could have easily gotten out of control for the Union. I’m glad that we weren’t embarrassed, which is frankly all I was hoping for.

    If Ruiz and LeToux finished their chances the game might have been different. However, both strikers fumbled. LeToux can’t be played as a forward. He just can’t finish this season. Strikers finish. He belongs on the wing. Ruiz who is supposed to be a pro let an easy one-on-one disappear, as well. These type of lapses are characteristic of the team’s season.

    Once again the youngsters came through where the “experienced” ones failed. Good for them!

    What I didn’t enjoy is watching R. Madrid run of the field after the game. “We’re to good for this place!” There seemed to be more Madrid fans than Philadelphia fans in the stands, they could have made their appropriate rounds. I guess big stars don’t interact with fans in any capacity. Shameful and unprofessional.

    • Yeah, the Madrid fans got snubbed! -:). I made the comment on Facebook and some Madrid fan made the lame excuse that the players flew back to Madrid at midnight. Does not mean they could not have walked around the stadium for 5 minutes like the Union team did. So Madrid fans: you better think twice while team you support!!!

  2. Ronaldo fell twice with no calls. Shocking. If he fell anymore Union would have to pay another 200k to them.

  3. I know it was a friendly and it’s kind of silly to make personnel changes based of one but can Nowak please sit Le Toux atleast once this season?

    There is trying to let a player play through a slump, and just being stubborn. At this point, several players are playing better than Le Toux at both his positions. I’d take Mwanga or Jack over him as a striker. I’d take Daniel or Marfan over him as a winger.

  4. Marfan is dirty. He should be starting over nakazawa.

  5. Adam, you should be writing for the Inquirer instead of this joker Narducci’s. You got it spot on; great report!

  6. Great article, but one complaint: how did you not mention MacMath’s amazing save on Ronaldo’s freekick following the Union goal? That was huge!

  7. The game was great, and the atmosphere was certainly electric. SoB’s not helping with the wave was a disappointment, however. Arrogant knuckleheads.

    The only thing I really noticed about the Union’s play that bugged me – and bugs me about their game play in general – is that they still insist on NOT playing the width of the field when on offense. They are all still too tight in the middle and often seem to fall over each other.

    That being said, I thought overall they played very well and should be proud of their performance. C’mon the U!

    • Josh, you are kidding about the wave, right? Please tell me you are kidding about the wave.

    • Josh, I agree with most of your post, but not helping with the wave was right on. I think doing the wave is pretty silly as it was a RM thing and honestly, why would you do that at a soccer game? It takes away from watching the game IMO. You see the knuckleheads who do the wave who are doing more watching of where the wave is then the game. To each his own and if you like doing the wave, outstanding, but I’m happy that SoB didn’t support the wave. To me, the wave is as good for match as the stupid vuvuzuela horns.

      • Sorry, guys, but I thought a part of the SoB’s “mission” was to help generate interest in the Union and Philadelphia soccer, not alienate 55,000 potential Union fans by being party-pooping separatists who can’t see the bigger picture.

        I’m an SoB, and I can understand the rationale from the SoB point of view for doing what they did. I also know that everyone save for maybe one other person is going to disagree with me, I know nothing about soccer, think I “don’t get it,” and I’ll probably catch a ton of doo-doo for saying it, but I don’t really care. Whether or not you like the wave, it’s a part of the world football culture. Rather than use the opportunity to show the “rest of the world” that we not only love our team but also love the game and the football culture, it showed (to me, at least) that we only care about our little corner of Philadelphia American soccer. That, to me, misses the whole point of hosting a team of the highest caliber.

        If anything, the SoB’s should have been the ones helping to get the ENTIRE crowd going. Not necessarily the wave, but something; showing some form of respect and thanks to Real Madrid for coming to play a second-year MLS team instead of yelling “sucks” when they announce Kaka; as if any SoB in his right mind would actually think he sucks. Again, I get it for MLS and supporting our team when we play the Pink Cows, but Real Madrid? For a friendly? Really?

        Even if it was unsuccessful, it would have shown everyone in attendance that the Union is here, in their backyard, the supporters are great, and that we are glad that one of the best teams in the entire world has come to play against us in a friendly. More importantly, that the Union is worth supporting and perhaps some people should check out what the U have going on at PPL Park.

        Again, I know I’m probably the only one thinking it, but that’s how I see it. Feel free to flame me and tell me how stupid and clueless I am; that’s okay. I know I probably have it coming. Have at it, boys.

      • I should also mention (sorry for forgetting it) that every time one of the Union players subbed out last night, every RM fan in my section was clapping for them. Can we say the same for all of the Union fans?

      • You must have been sitting in a different section that I was. To me, the RM fans were just having a party about seeing RM live. The Union were more or less irrelevant to them. I didn’t see them being disrespectful in any way, but nor did I see them applauding us either.

        IMHO, it is unfair to me to blast the SoB for not doing the RM wave. If you’re upset about that, shouldn’t you also be upset that the RM fans did not join in the Union chants?

        In a crowd that was decidedly pro-Madrid, it was nice to see one section of the stadium that didn’t forget that our boys were out there too.

  8. I don’t see a reply button for your post, Ryan, but I’ll say this:

    1. All of the fans in my section were watching the game intently, not just partying, so with that in mind I totally get what you’re saying about the Union being irrelevant to them.

    2. I also concede your point about the chanting, but to be honest I sit in 105 and can’t understand 75% of the chants that TRE boys sing on game day, either. I honestly can’t make out most of what is sung, so I don’t even try unless it’s one of the clapping chants like “C’mon the U” or “Philadelphia (claps).” I’m sure you know which one I’m talking about.

    But even with those two things, the main point of my position isn’t to go tit-for-tat with RM fans. My point was that the SoB’s had what I perceive to be a great opportunity to help promote the Union and didn’t. They squandered it on yelling YSA and SoMB instead. They could have been the ones leading the charge regardless of how the attendance was skewed.

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