- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 13, 2009

You could hardly blame D.C. United’s players if for a moment they were slightly distracted from Saturday’s top-of-the-conference clash with the Chicago Fire.

While the game at RFK Stadium might be the biggest match in Major League Soccer this weekend, another game was discussed in excited tones in D.C. United’s locker room. That would be United’s exhibition against Real Madrid at FedEx Field on Aug. 9, which has suddenly taken on more significance after certain events transpired in Europe this week.

It’s no longer a game; it’s an event. And it’s taking place in our backyard.

The United-Madrid matchup took on giant proportions Tuesday when Brazilian ace Kaka joined Madrid from AC Milan for a then-record transfer fee of $92 million. Two days later, the game’s implications went into the stratosphere when the reigning world player of the year, Cristiano Ronaldo, shattered Kaka’s record and joined him at Madrid for a whopping $131 million after leaving Manchester United.

Joked United coach Tom Soehn: “It’s not too often that people can come and watch two of the best players in the world and also get to see Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka.”

If you think the Washington Redskins get a lot of media attention at FedEx Field, think again. The world will be tuning in for this drama at Dan Snyder’s hangout.

“What a great opportunity to see questionably two of the best players in the world on the field at a point where they are actually going to have four or five games under their belt, and they are going to start the season right after they play us,” Soehn said. “You are going to see them right at their starting point, which means we will have our hands full.”

United defender Marc Burch said: “I came in, and [Soehn] stopped me in the hall and asked me if I was ready to guard Cristiano Ronaldo on free kicks. I hadn’t yet heard the news, but it’s awesome.”

It’s quite possible that with Kaka and Ronaldo as the marquee players - not forgetting Adams Morgan’s own Ben Olsen - the 92,000-seat venue could be sold out.

The folks at United’s ticket office must be smiling like a Cheshire cat.

“With those two guys, I think there is a real appeal - whether you are a soccer fan or not,” Soehn said. “If you watch the news right now, they are all over every channel. They are a big deal and great players, so it’s not only a chance for pure soccer fans but for everyone to see some of the best in their sport.”

As for Ronaldo, his record-breaking move is only fitting for the man with the biggest ego in soccer. It’s probably the best thing for Manchester United but a loss for fans of the Premier League, who will miss the nifty skills of the brilliant striker.

The Manchester club may have lost a great player, but coach Alex Ferguson, a noted control freak, may have gotten rid of a pesky irritant and made a neat profit on a kid the club picked up for $24 million six years ago. Ronaldo is not the easiest player to deal with. He’s stubborn, spoiled, apt to tantrums and slightly scary when behind the wheel of a $300,000 Ferrari. He’s the opposite of Kaka, a devout Christian who tithes to his church.

Madrid will make a fortune from these deals. After David Beckham moved to Real, the club reportedly sold more than $600 million in shirts during his four seasons with the team.

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