LANDOVER, Md. -- For the longest time, more than $300 million worth of spanking-new Real Madrid talent couldn't get the ball past a modestly paid goalkeeper named Josh Wicks, who dived left, right and took command in front of his net to keep D.C. United in the game against soccer's latest edition of the best team money can buy.
The inevitable breakdown occurred in the second half, when Gonzalo Higuain shredded United's defense for two goals in a two-minute span, leading the Spanish powerhouse to a 3-0 victory over the MLS club in Sunday's exhibition before 72,368 at FedEx Field.
Arjen Robben added another goal for Real, which went 2-0 in its preseason swing through North America. Real defeated Toronto FC 5-1 on Friday.
"You never know when you're going play them again, so make sure you have your best game," said Wicks, whose $42,000 MLS salary would be pocket change for Real.
United's usual home, RFK Stadium, couldn't hold all the U.S.-based Real fans who wanted to come, but the spectators in white spent the first half and part of the second applauding in appreciation for Wicks. He finished with six saves, including a diving, right-arm reflex stop against Robben in the 52nd minute.
"The crowd actually gave me more confidence," Wicks said. "You sure don't want to mess up in front of 70,000. One or two hundred is OK to mess up on, but 70,000 -- you don't want to do that."
But Wicks was helpless after Higuain sliced through United's defense on a 40-yard run to score easily in the 57th minute, and Higuain was wide open for a second goal in the 59th after taking a pass from Robben. When Wicks was removed from the game in the 67th -- both coaches substituted liberally in the second half -- the goalkeeper received a warm ovation.
Had it not been for Wicks, the final score would have been much uglier. Real outshot United 19-4, including 10-2 in shots on goal.
"We tried our best. Sometimes you're just a little outmatched," United midfielder Ben Olsen said. "It was hot. They were a little sluggish in the first half. They got a little sick of us having the ball in the second half and really pushed us."
Real stunned the soccer world by spending some $375 million to acquire players in the offseason in an effort to regain Spanish supremacy from Spanish rival Barcelona. Its haul included Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo, FIFA's world players of the year in 2007 and 2008. Ronaldo only played the first half on Sunday as temperatures hovered in the mid-90s, and Kaka was replaced in the 67th minute.
"It was tough to play today because of the heat, but that's part of it," Ronaldo said. "I think the team did well, gradually we've been getting better, and I think it was a good match and we enjoyed it."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press