- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 9, 2009

On paper, Sunday’s exhibition between D.C. United and Spanish super club Real Madrid is not just a mismatch - it’s a huge one. United is well aware of that, and it’s not backing down.

“We intend to play our game,” coach Tom Soehn said during a news conference Saturday at Hotel Sofitel. “We obviously know their strengths, and there are a lot of them. We expect them to give us a good match, and they expect us to step up to the plate.”

Madrid is considered one of the best clubs in the world. It has won a record 31 La Liga titles and nine European Cups. And it has only gotten better this summer with the addition of playmakers Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo, winners of the past two FIFA world player of the year awards.

Unlike Madrid, United has had a couple of days of rest since its last match. It bested L.A. Firpo on Tuesday in El Salvador on penalty kicks to advance to the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League.

Although United is in the middle of a busy season, Sunday’s matchup is a highlight for the players.

“We have plenty of time to focus on the rest of the season after this game,” midfielder Ben Olsen said. “All of our minds are on this game.”

Real Madrid is using this game as part of a North American preseason tour. The club ran through Toronto FC for a 5-1 exhibition victory Friday. After the acquisition of Kaka and Ronaldo, Madrid’s management hopes a strong preseason showing will help boost the squad past archrival Barcelona, winners of La Liga, the Copa del Ray and the UEFA Champions League last season.

United hopes to use this game to make a statement that Americans have started to develop their own style of play.

“I think that’s the beauty of the game,” Soehn said. “Every country offers something a bit different, and every team offers something different. I think the most important thing is that we put together an exciting game and make some new fans.”

Ronaldo said he believes there’s a bright future for the sport in the United States.

“I think football is growing everyday in the United States,” he said. “There’s no limit to the growth of the sport here.”

That said, United could have a difficult time countering the ferocity of Real Madrid’s attack.

“We watched [Friday’s] game,” midfielder Christian Gomez said. “We know that they have potent forwards up top and a good midfield. We know it’s a friendly game, but we are going to do our best to try to get a result.”

United’s players are aware of Real Madrid’s reputation, but Olsen said he believes the team will play with the same level of energy as any other major game - with a little less pressure.

“Unfortunately I only know one speed, and I think for the most part there’s a great excitement among the guys at D.C. United,” he said. “It’s kind of a win-win. We can go out and play free, enjoy ourselves and try to make it a memorable day.”

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