- The Washington Times - Monday, August 10, 2009

Simple breakdowns have cost D.C. United on many occasions this season in the form of failed clearances, missed tackles and miscommunication.

When those breakdowns happen against one of the most talented teams in the world, they can produce dazzling goals in dizzying fashion.

Real Madrid’s Gonzalo Higuain scored twice and Arjen Robben netted a magnificent third during a 12-minute span to give Europe’s most decorated club a 3-0 victory over United on Sunday in front of 72,368 at FedEx Field.

It was an expected outcome, especially after Madrid ran through MLS foe Toronto FC on Friday. But after holding Madrid and reigning world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo scoreless for a half, United couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed with the outcome.

“We came out and accomplished what we [wanted to do] for about 55 minutes,” coach Tom Soehn said. “We pressured high, forced a lot of turnovers in higher parts of the field. But in the final third of the field, we just missed a little bit all the time. Against good teams you’re only really going to create a couple good opportunities. We were a little unfortunate not to get something out of it. The difference is they bring in world-class subs that are fresh.”

Robben was the game-changing substitute who came on for Dutch countryman Wesley Sneijder at the half. Robben’s overlapping run drew defenders off Higuain and created an easy path for Madrid’s first goal in the 57th minute.

Two minutes later, Robben turned United defender Marc Burch and centered a pass to Higuain. United keeper Josh Wicks came off his line to make a stop but missed the ball, leaving a wide-open goal for Madrid’s second tally.

“It was kind of simple breakdowns,” United’s Devon McTavish said. “But obviously the best team in the world is probably going to be able to break you down. I think we left some stuff out there; we could have accomplished a little more.”

Robben then finished Madrid’s flourish with a marvelous lob in the 69th minute, juggling the ball once to bait United substitute goalie Milos Kocic off his line and then placing it neatly into the net over the racing keeper with his second touch.

The 12-minute stretch came as a bit of a surprise after United held Madrid scoreless for the first half. United did a good job holding possession for long stretches, made hard challenges and kept Ronaldo and fellow playmaker Kaka off the ball.

But United rarely tested Madrid’s goal and put just two shots on target.

“We played well for 55 minutes, and good teams have to play for 90,” captain Jaime Moreno said.

But the day was not without highlights for United. Wicks made six saves in 67 minutes, including a diving stop on what looked to be a sure goal by Madrid’s Esteban Granero in the 14th minute.

“He continues to grow,” Soehn said. “He made a couple big saves for us, but again it’s about the whole team. I thought we defended very well from the front to the back.”

Ultimately the day was more about the outcome for United, which played in front of the biggest crowd in the 14-year history of the club. A chance to play against Madrid and its world-class players was just too good of an opportunity to pass up.

“It was a fun day and a day to be able to showcase the best team in the world but to also get some to notice D.C. United as well,” McTavish said. “And 72,000-plus people came out to enjoy this game, so hopefully we can make some fans out of that. If we can do that, then I think it’s a success.”

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