- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Chelsea one day, Real Madrid the next.

Eight D.C. United players helped lead the Major League Soccer All-Star team to a stunning 1-0 win over English champion Chelsea on Saturday in Chicago.

Tonight United will face Spanish giant Real Madrid — the second most popular soccer team in the world after Manchester United — in an exhibition game at the 67,000 sold-out Qwest Field in Seattle. The match is being shown live at 11 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet.

United midfielder Josh Gros can hardly believe his fortunes. The 24-year-old put in an impressive performance in the All-Star win and will be in the starting lineup against Real Madrid.

“This is certainly the best competition I’ve ever faced in my life,” Gros said. “To play two of the best teams in the world in little over a week is just amazing.”

Gros played the entire game against Chelsea and looks likely to do the same against Real Madrid, whose roster includes such famous names as David Beckham, Raul, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Fabio Cannavaro, along with Brazilian World Cup stars Roberto Carlos, Robinho and Emerson. Talented striker Van Nistelrooy recently joined Real Madrid from Manchester United, while Cannavaro, who captained Italy to a World Cup win, joined Real Madrid from scandal-plagued and demoted Italian team Juventus last month.

“If you had told me a couple of years ago I would be playing against Chelsea and Real Madrid, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Gros said.

Gros earns $72,000 a year in MLS, while most of the Real Madrid players earn much more than that in just one week. According to Forbes magazine, the Spanish team is the sixth most valuable sports franchise in the world, valued at $1 billion.

Gros said he doesn’t follow Spanish soccer very closely. But in a preseason tour of Spain, United did get to watch a Real Madrid game.

“I’ll be going up against Roberto Carlos and even Beckham, which is great,” Gros said. “The team is really excited because we hear the stadium is sold out and I’ve never played before 60,000 before.”

Real Madrid has been crowned the European champion a record nine times and has claimed the Spanish championship 29 times.

“We take these games very seriously, said Real Madrid coach Fabio Capello, who last month left Juventus to coach Real Madrid. “We are traveling with all our players and Beckham is here. However, we are not an all-star team but a team.”

United originally wanted to play tonight’s game at RFK Stadium or FedEx Field, but couldn’t because of scheduling problems. There was even an idea to play at Camden Yards but that was blocked by organizers of a match between FC Barcelona and the New York Red Bulls at Giants Stadium on Saturday. They believed a game in Baltimore featuring another top Spanish club would affect ticket sales.

Once the dominant power in Spain, Real Madrid hasn’t won a major title in three years.

Meanwhile, United is enjoying one its most successful seasons. The team has an MLS-best 13-2-6 record and leads the Eastern Conference standings by 18 points. Last month United shut out visiting Scottish champion Celtic FC 4-0. United is 22-9-5 against international teams.

Note — D.C. United traded forward Santino Quaranta to the Los Angeles Galaxy yesterday. United will receive a partial allocation and a conditional pick in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft. In 62 career games (42 starts) Quaranta — a sixth-year player, drafted eighth overall in 2001 — posted 14 goals and 13 assists. He has appeared in only four games for United this season, playing a total of 65 minutes.

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