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Union handles challenge from Real Madrid

THERE ARE FEW TIMES when one can say a loss speaks volumes in favor of the loser. But it can be said emphatically in the case of the Union.

The Union gave up two early goals to Real Madrid, but got their offense in sync after that. (Michael Perez/AP)
The Union gave up two early goals to Real Madrid, but got their offense in sync after that. (Michael Perez/AP)Read more

THERE ARE FEW TIMES when one can say a loss speaks volumes in favor of the loser.

But it can be said emphatically in the case of the Union.

In front of a raucous crowd of 57,305 at Lincoln Financial Field Saturday night, the litmus test that was a 2-1 loss to Spanish power Real Madrid proved the Union can hang with the world's best - even if it took a little time to get up to speed.

"It was definitely a challenge, but I think we responded well," said Union manager Peter Nowak. "No injuries, that's the most important thing. But it was good, but it could have been better. Tactically, I thought we shrunk the field too much and there was nowhere to go, and the counter [attacks] came from those mistakes. When we opened [the field] and played like we did in the second half it was a much better game."

Michael Farfan made the final score respectable, taking a pass from Danny Mwanga at the edge of the box and smartly lifting the ball past Real Madrid third-string goalkeeper Tomas Mejias in the 80th minute.

"It felt great, to do something like that against one of the best teams in the world, it was a great opportunity for all of us," said Farfan. "I think it's a good thing for me, everyone should play with confidence. It's why I play the game and to come out and play tonight with confidence and get the goal, I think it'll help me a lot going forward."

But it'd be hard for many of the pro-Real Madrid supporters in attendance to argue the result could not have been even at the end of 90 minutes. A Union defensive lapse allowed Madrid forward Jose Maria Callejon his first goal in the World Football Challenge in the game's second minute, and forward Mesut Ozil scored the 11th-minute go-ahead when he streaked past a pair of Union defenders and ripped a shot past a sprawling Faryd Mondragon.

In fact, many of those same supporters were in full roar for the Union, who provided an onslaught on Meijas late in the second half. The chances came often, spearheaded by yet another superb performance by Roger Torres.

Torres, yearning to become a 90-minute starter, proved for the second game that perhaps he deserves a second look from Nowak, as his presence was also felt in Wednesday's 1-0 win over English Premier League side Everton FC.

This was the same Real Madrid side that, before Saturday's contest, had dominated the WFC standings, taking a 4-1 win in its opener against MLS Western Conference leader Los Angeles (July 16). Additionally, a hat trick from Madrid's Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo gave Real a 3-0 win over Mexico's Chivas de Guadalajara on July 20 in San Diego.

"This was a very good team tonight; they didn't make it easy on us," said Brazilian forward Kaka, a second-half substitution who was FIFA's World Player of the Year in 2007. "We have two more friendly games in Europe and China. This is all very good training for us that will make us anxious to get to league play."

Ronaldo, also a second-half sub and undoubtedly the game's star attraction, was not the headliner in this one courtesy of a defensive effort that found him blanketed by a pair of Union defenders in the final third of the field the entire half.

"Unfortunately we lost, but I think this game showed that we can hang with the best out there," said Union defender Sheanon Williams. "But I think we showed that the MLS is a good league and we have good players. Mike scored a great goal for us and they capitalized on two mistakes that make you wonder how much differently this game might have been if those didn't happen."

The tests are over and it's back to the grind of continuing to stay atop MLS' Eastern Conference. The Union (8-4-7, 31 points) returns to MLS play Friday at home against defending MLS Cup champion Colorado (7-6-10, 31 points) at 7:30 p.m. The match is part of Fox Soccer's "Soccer Night in America."

Odds and endlines

The ceremonial trading of the jersey was in full effect. While Danny Mwanga had a jersey in tow during postgame interviews, he chose to keep mum about whose he received. Sebastien Le Toux was not so reserved as he revealed he traded tops with French star Karim Benzema. "It was an honor for me, he is a great player and it was nice to play against a fellow player from my country that I admire," Le Toux said.