Union acquit themselves well in loss to Real Madrid

Posted: July 25, 2011

At first, the Union looked overwhelmed; then they slowly settled in; and, finally, they took on the personality that has defined them in their year-and-a-half existence in Major League Soccer.

On Saturday night before 57,305 soccer enthusiasts at Lincoln Financial Field, the Union dug in against one of the world's best teams, fought, scrapped, and probably never acquitted themselves better in a losing effort.

Real Madrid held on for a 2-1 win, and even though it was only a friendly, the Union made up for a slow start with a blazing finish that had one of the world's best teams back on its heels.

The Union came close to tying the score when Jack McInerney's shot from around the 18 was defected wide by Real keeper Tomas Mejias during second-half stoppage time.

That was one of several scoring chances for the Union, who started slowly, yielding two goals in the first 11 minutes before settling down.

So what does this all mean?

Coming off Wednesday's impressive, 1-0 win over Everton Football Club on Wednesday before a sellout crowd at PPL Park and Saturday's performance against Real Madrid, the Union are well-armed with depth and confidence as they return to Major League Soccer action with Friday's game at PPL Park against the defending league champion Colorado Rapids.

"We were pushing at the end and had it 2-1 and figured, why not go for a tie against Real Madrid?" McInerney said. "It was encouraging and capped a good week after beating Everton."

Of course, a cynic would suggest that Everton and Real Madrid are in their preseasons and didn't take the games as seriously, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Unlike Everton, which was without U.S. National Team goalkeeper Tim Howard, who was getting a breather, Real Madrid had its entire lineup. This same Real Madrid team beat the Los Angeles Galaxy, 4-1, last week, and that's a Galaxy team considered among the favorites to win the MLS Cup.

And in these friendlies, some MLS teams have not exactly distinguished themselves. What about Manchester United beating the Seattle Sounders, 7-0?

Even last year during an inaugural 8-15-7 season, the Union earned the reputation of playing hard the entire 90 minutes, plus stoppage time, regardless of the score.

And that is what they showed against Real Madrid. It appeared early on as if Real was going to blow the Union right out of the Linc, but the composure slowly came, then the confidence, and finally a goal by Michael Farfan in the 80th minute. And the Union kept charging.

"It was disappointing to come out with some nerves in the beginning, and we put ourselves behind the eight ball," Union defender Danny Califf said. "We did a really good job coming back and regaining our composure and putting together a really good performance against a team that really brought their full roster."

What these friendlies showed was the Union's depth, and over the final 15 regular-season MLS games, team manager Peter Nowak's biggest challenge will be distributing playing time. The Union are 8-4-7 and tied for first place with Columbus in the Eastern Conference, but with two games in hand.

Of all the players who made a push for more time, midfielder Roger Torres stood out in both friendlies.

In addition, midfielder Veljko Paunovic, who has been sidelined with a hip injury, says he's ready to return this week, providing even more depth.

The Union insist there will be no letdown after playing two high-quality games last week. They insist that the hunger is there and that they are ready to secure their place in the postseason.

From the way they never stopped coming at Real Madrid, one certainly has to take the players at their word.


Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225, mnarducci@phillynews.com, or @sjnard on Twitter.

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