The Union didnt leave Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday with a win over storied Real Madrid. But they did leave with a respectable effort tucked firmly in their pocket.
Conceding a pair of early goals put the Union into chase mode, but a score by Michael Farfan in the 80th minute gave the Union a reason to walk off the pitch with their heads held high, as they fell to Real, 2-1, in friendly play.
In the back of your mind you hope that it doesnt turn into a 4-0 debacle, said Danny Califf, with regard to getting down early. But I think we slowed down, showed some good character and basically just fought hard.
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We came back and showed some character in a big way.
Coach Peter Nowak summed the night up for his squad as his he briskly walked through the media area.
No one got hurt and we played good, he said with a smile.
Gaining the top of the Real box, Danny Mwanga dribbled a pass to Farfan, who edged his defender and finessed a chip shot over Tomas Mejias, to cut the Real lead, 2-1. However, despite pushing the pressure late, the Union were unable to close their early deficit.
I passed it to Danny, and Danny passed it back, said Farfan. I saw Mejias was a little off his mark, so I just chipped it. It felt great, one of the best teams in the world. It was a great opportunity for all of us.
The friendly loss was just the second in team history for the Union, who also lost at Lincoln Financial Field last season, 1-0, to Manchester United. Yet, a one-goal defeat to Real is admirable, considering that the Spanish La Liga squad worked like a buzz saw through North America, defeating the La Galaxy, 4-1, and Chivas Guadalajara, 3-0.
I think that we probably won some fans tonight and I think that we did it not just from the score line but from the way that we played, assistant coach John Hackworth said. We werent scared to play and to try to play through them and possess the ball and run combinations and get numbers forward. Any fan that watches walks away from a Union game and says that it was pretty entertaining.
For Califf, matching muscle with teams like Real is always beneficial, despite the final.
I think its always going to be a good thing to play against a good team, Califf said. You have to think quicker and you have to play quicker. You have to elevate your game and any time you need to elevate your game, you get better as a player and a team. We took steps forward into becoming a better team.
The Union limped out to the worst possible start to the highly anticipated contest, when a high lofty ball was misplayed and slipped over the head of back Sheanon Williams and onto the foot of a wide open Jose Maria Callejon. The midfielder gained control and easily tipped the shot past Faryd Mondragon and inside the far post, giving Real the 1-0 advantage in just the third minute.
After a nice but fruitless counter by Williams in the ninth minute that ricocheted off the post, Real went back to work. On an even-strength break at the top left corner of the Union box, Karim Benzema made an outside-inside move on Carlos Valdes before leading a perfect pass to a streaking Mesut Ozil, who beat the inside Union defenders, gathered it and fired the ball easily into the back of the net, giving Real the 2-0 lead just 11 minutes into the game. Two mistakes and two goals against.
Especially from two guys who have been so steady for us throughout the year, said Califf, talking about how freak mistakes cost his team. It happens to everybody and those guys rebounded. Its always tough to get behind the 8-ball against a team like Real. Its tough to claw back.
But they did. Down a pair before the contest even got warmed up, the Union continued to push. In the 19th minute, with an open look down the right side of the Real box, Sebastien Le Toux ripped a low line drive directly into the legs of goalkeeper Iker Castillas. Later in the half, sprung on a breakaway, noted finisher Carlos Ruiz attempted to take the pass but a hard first touch sent the ball into the goalies hands to keep the score 2-0 Real after 45 minutes.
They scored the second goal and me and Jack McInerney looked at the time and thought -- 'Oh no, its going to be a long game,' said Amobi Okugo. But then we settled in and once we did that, we knew we could play with them and our confidence gradually grew. More chances started to come.
Against world-class competition, missed chances can haunt a team. And thats exactly what they did to the Union.
I wish we could have capitalized on more of our chances, said Okugo, whose squad earned two second-half shots on frame and four corner kicks. They capitalized on their chances, thats why they get paid the big bucks and play in the Champions League.
You have to capitalize on every opportunity.
Although the friendly contest was deemed an exhibition aimed at the Unions younger players, the second-year team began the match with their starting squad. Mondragon, Valdes, Williams, Danny Califf, Kyle Nakazawa, Justin Mapp, Brian Carroll, Keon Daniel, Le Toux and Ruiz rounded out the starting group in front of 57,305 fans. The Union wanted to put on a show.
It was a great experience, said Okugo. There was a great atmosphere, even with the Phillies game and Rihanna concert. Soccer is growing in America and it was a great crowdeven if it was pro Madrid.
E-mail Ryan Bright at firstname.lastname@example.org