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Thursday, August 10, 2006
Another good showing for American soccer

Andrew Winner

SEATTLE, WA -- Someone forgot to tell Freddy Adu that last night's game was a meaningless friendly. Gleefully signing autographs after the game, Adu's jubilation after holding Real Madrid to a 1-1 draw was evident.

"We wanted to prove American soccer is not a fluke. Beating Chelsea [with the MLS All-Stars] and then getting a chance to play against Real Madrid ... we should automatically qualify for Champions League!" Adu joked. "You know what, we beat Chelsea fair and square and we just tied Real Madrid. What more can you ask for?"

Adu, who still intends to make a move to Europe in the next couple of years, said he intended to use the match as a barometer of his readiness. And while he ended up on the newly-laid grass at Qwest Field on a number of occasions, it was his cross that initiated the sequence that led to United's goal. He also showed his growth defensively -- in the second half he tracked back to cut out a through ball to a streaking Robinho.

When United slowed the pace down in the second half, Adu, who played 90 minutes, took care of his defensive responsibilities and didn't take as many unnecessary risks with the ball. With a couple of exceptions, Adu meshed well with his team's concept and in the end, helped D.C. escape with a favorable result.

"In the first half I was going at them a little bit more," Adu said. "In the second half we wanted to keep the ball and keep it moving so I guess we weren't going at them as much. We didn't want to throw to many numbers up because they had the players to punish you."

While it's important to take this last night's result with a large grain of salt, D.C. United did take the occasion to make a strong statement about the quality of soccer being played in the United States. In front of a sellout crowd, some unfamiliar fans could be forgiven if they couldn't tell the difference between the team of highly-paid international superstars and the MLS leaders.

United defender Bobby Boswell and goalkeeper Troy Perkins, in particular, played with quality belying their $29,400 per year paychecks -- Perkins' diving stop of Roberto Carlos' wall-splitting free kick was almost too good to be believed.

"They play football from the back -- good technical play. I have to say, they made a really good game for us," said new Real Madrid signing Ruud Van Nistelrooy. "You can compliment D.C. United; they showed they are very good football players."

After the match, Adu's teammates shared some of his joy. Although the older United players downplayed the significance of beating a team that just started training two weeks ago, the sense of accomplishment was still tangible.

"We wanted to show all these people that came tonight that we really have good teams in America," said Jaime Moreno, who set up Alecko Eskandarian's one-touch equalizer for D.C. United.

Those in attendance saw just that -- two entertaining, competitive soccer teams netting a couple of world-class goals. Real Madrid's Antonio Cassano opened the scoring, running onto a through ball from Roberto Carlos. He cut back once, twice; making Swiss cheese of Bryan Namoff before firing a laser beam by Perkins' near post.

Three minutes later, D.C. United responded with a quality goal of its own. After stringing several passes together, Adu's cross led to a centering ball to Moreno, who touched it back to Eskandarian. He made no mistake as his first time shot found the side netting and pulled D.C. level.

Several other near chances dotted the second half, including a wild goalmouth scramble in the D.C. United end and Cicinho's woodwork-shaving screamer in second-half stoppage time.

Seattle fans flock to watch Beckham

While the performance of D.C. United raised eyebrows, perhaps the biggest surprise of last night's Real Madrid-D.C. United friendly came not on the field, but at the ticket office. With less than three weeks to prepare, organizers managed the nearly-impossible task of selling out Qwest Field. The 66,830 fans in attendance made up the largest soccer crowd in the Seattle's history -- a remarkable feat considering tickets went on sale a mere 16 days before the match.

"The economics felt right, so we went for it," said Adrian Hanauer, who owns the USL's Seattle Sounders and brought this match to Seattle. "We started the discussions three weeks ago, signed the contract two weeks and two days ago, and started selling tickets that same day. We basically signed the agreement at noon and sent out a press release at 12:05."

"The risk was could we get it promoted and get enough fans in here. The part I didn't understand was how powerful the Real Madrid brand is."

It wasn't just the Real Madrid game that was on display last night. International icon and occasional soccer player David Beckham came to Seattle and played the first half, much to the delight of his fans.

Nearly everyone in attendance at Seattle's Qwest Field listed Beckham as at least a partial reason for showing up. While many of the fans came to watch two fantastic club teams play quality soccer, just as many made the trip for a chance to coo over the former England captain.

Beckham looked as though he had recovered from the knee injury suffered in the World Cup. His field-switching long ball to Antonio Cassano drew some of the biggest cheers of the night and the sound accompanying his first free kick could have been characterized not so much as a cheer but as a communal sigh of affection.

As the rows of his jerseys filed past the turnstiles, it became apparent why Beckham has made it his goal to finish his career in the States. One needed only to look for flash bulbs to know when Beckham had the ball, especially when he lined up for a free kick in the first minute.

While Beckham's (and Adu's) drawing power was one reason why Hanauer took the financial risk to bring the game to Seattle, another was the region's strong ties to soccer. The Seattle area boasts some of the highest MLS ratings of any nonmarket and matches involving international teams routinely draw good numbers. Over 60,000 came to see Manchester United take on Celtic in 2003 with Chelsea's match against Celtic the following year was also well-attended.

"It was a successful event,' Hanauer said. "For me, it was a magical evening having 67,000 people watching soccer. It makes all the hard work worth while."

Andrew Winner is a freelance writer who covers U.S. soccer for ESPN Soccernet.com. He can be reached at andrewwinner@gmail.com


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