- The Washington Times - Friday, August 7, 2009

With D.C. United entering a brutal stretch of matches in three competitions, it seems as if a meaningless exhibition should have been avoided.

Exceptions are made, however, when Real Madrid comes calling.

A chance for United to test itself against the famed Spanish club was an opportunity too good to pass up even though the team knew it would have to play the match while dealing with the rigors of MLS play and international competition.

The clubs meet at 3 p.m. Sunday at FedEx Field. Madrid, which faces Toronto FC on Friday, is using a two-stop North American tour as a tuneup before La Liga play.

“You’re trying to contain your energy throughout the rest of the month, but when you do get in a game such as Real Madrid, I think that goes out the window,” United defender Bryan Namoff said. “You’re playing with a lot of heart and emotion. You tend to try to give everything you got because you take it as a challenge when you’re as competitive as we are throughout the team.”

Namoff was on the pitch in 2006 when United played Madrid to a 1-1 draw before more than 66,000 at Seattle’s Qwest Field. United teammates Ben Olsen, Jaime Moreno, Christian Gomez and Clyde Simms also played in that exhibition.

But United will see a much different opponent Sunday. Real Madrid revamped everything in the offseason after being swept in league play by rival and eventual European champion Barcelona. First, Madrid reshuffled its front office and coaching staff. Then it brought in Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka - both on the short list for best player in the world - on record transfer fees. The club also forked over large sums for striker Karim Benzema and midfielder Xabi Alonso to group with its contingent of Spanish, Dutch and Argentine superstars.

“Anytime you have the best attacking player probably in the entire world coming at you, yeah, definitely in the back of your head - I don’t want to say [you’re] fearful, but it’s a great challenge,” Namoff said. “It’s one where you have to recognize not only a player like Cristiano Ronaldo, but he’s got other players around him that are as good. It’s not like we can contain just one player when there are 10 other All-Stars on the team.”

While the friendly in Seattle provided some surprising competitiveness, Sunday’s match should follow the substitution-heavy pattern that European clubs have employed against MLS teams this summer. Italian club AC Milan, English team Chelsea and Barcelona made the rounds in North America, and the second halves of those exhibitions were reserve showcases.

“I don’t think guys are going to go 90 minutes and push it to the brink where you’re hurting yourself,” United’s Santino Quaranta said. “Just the last couple friendlies I’ve been watching around the league, it’s two different teams in certain halves.”

That’s not going to change the way United prepares or plays even though it’s slated to play in the CONCACAF Champions League and the U.S. Open Cup in the next month. Namoff and Quaranta said this friendly is an invaluable chance for the club to showcase itself against the best players on the planet. That chance is too good to pass up or value too lightly, even in the midst of a trying season.

“Whenever you step on the field in competition, for me it’s one speed and one intensity,” Quaranta said. “Whether it be a friendly, training on the field or the finals of an MLS Cup, you kind of have the same mentality. It’s going to be fun. I’m sure guys will get nervous, but it’s a great opportunity for us to play with these guys.”

Note - Real Madrid sold 25-year-old striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar to AC Milan on Thursday. Madrid purchased the Dutch player from Ajax Amsterdam in January, and he scored eight goals with the club.

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