- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 8, 2009

TORONTO | Most consider George Steinbrenner and his New York Yankees the ultimate indulgence of the best players that money can buy, but Florentino Perez might have him beat.

European giant Real Madrid will face D.C. United in a friendly Sunday at FedEx Field boasting a lineup packing strength and potential never seen in soccer.

With grand designs of displacing Manchester United as the most valuable franchise in the sports world, Perez went on an offseason spending spree that added blinding sparkle to a star-studded roster.

“We have to demonstrate it on the field,” captain Guti said. “The payroll difference between teams makes no difference. It is 11 vs. 11 on-field, and the fans must go home happy. They are the ones who actually pay us.”

More than 18,000 enthusiastic fans filled the stands in Toronto at $15 a pop for Real Madrid’s training session and scrimmage. Game tickets at 24,000-seat BMO Field - priced from $145 to $215 - sold out within hours. Behind two goals from Raul, Real Madrid won 5-1 in a laugher Friday night.

In less than a month of dealing, Perez obtained 2008 FIFA player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo, 2007 player of the year Kaka and six other premier players. Ronaldo came from Manchester United for $132 million; Kaka came from AC Milan for $100 million.

Six more signings, including Frenchman Karim Benzema and Spanish fan favorites Raul Albiol and Xabi Alonso, gobbled up another $150 million. All of this was added to a squad that boasted a superstar cast of Iker Casillas, Fernando Gago, Guti, Arjen Robben, Raul Gonzalez and Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Fans will get a chance to see this rare assemblage of skillful athletic abilities, even if MLS fans in the District and Toronto labeled the friendlies a midseason obstacle in the way of the real task at hand.

But Real Madrid is here for much more than a pair of exhibitions.

“We want to use these matches in America to apply the tactic Real Madrid will deploy this season and come closer to our new signings mending together. These games are serious for us,” coach Manuel Pellegrini said. “The responsibility of Real Madrid is enough, so every time out we - my players - must prove it to our opponent.”

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