With an exciting and dramatic 1-0 finish on Wednesday, the Union passed the first of two weighty trials during friendly week, sending English Premier League side Everton home from PPL Park disappointed.
But on Saturday, as the confident second-year squad strolls away from their friendly confines and steps onto the pitch at Lincoln Financial Field to face legendary Real Madrid, the stakes will be raised.
Every time we step on the field we have the mentality to win, said midfielder Amobi Okugo. This can carry over for the second half of the season. We have a five-game unbeaten streak and we have to use these friendlies and treat these games like they are league games.
While adding much-needed confidence and vital experience is a definite plus in friendlies like these, there is a pitfall the potential of being embarrassed. Getting dominated to the point of shame is a real issue when facing a team like Real Madrid, which has been dismantling its opposition during its tour of North America. The Spanish La Liga team dominated the LA Galaxy, 4-1, and defeated Mexican club Chivas Guadalajara, 3-0.
I think everyone prepares themselves as well as possible against real competition, said Faryd Mondragon. These kinds of games we have to be at our top level, making sure everyone knows their part and not missing anything. Its a very fantastic week for us and were very honored to play these two top clubs.
The tip of the buzz saw for potent Real Madrid is world-class superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. He posted a hat trick against Guadalajara and scored a highlight-reel jaw-dropper against the Galaxy on July 17. Even in the teams preseason, Ronaldo is as dangerous a scorer as anyone in the world.
Ronaldo is so unpredictable, said Union coach Peter Nowak. His speed, physicality. You have to be on your toes any time he touches the ball. How to limit him is a different story. Many teams try, many teams fail. From our standpoint, we need to eliminate those kinds of things and make sure he does not get chances. Its a very difficult thing to achieve.
For Okugo, who is a student of the game, curbing the immense excitement brought on by playing against a team like Real Madrid, in particular, Ronaldo, will be a task the young Union players will have to achieve.
On the field youre not thinking about who they are, said Okugo. Afterwards, you think, dang, I really played Cristiano. One minute Im watching his YouTube videos and now Im playing against him. Its going to be an amazing experience and we hope to find a good result.
We spend weekends waking up early in the morning to watch these guys play on TV. To have them here on our field, playing against them and going into 50-50 challenges, its just an amazing experience.
The Union youngsters, who were let loose in the second half against Everton, were not shell-shocked in the least by their famous opponent. In fact, 17-year-old Union Academy player Christian Hernandez scored the only goal in Wednesdays friendly. Also shining late in the game were teenagers Zach Pfeffer and Jimmy McLaughlin. Earning experience for the young players remains a crucial part of the Unions plan in friendlies. And despite the high-powered Real Madrid team, that plan wont likely change on Saturday.
Of course want to do well but its great experience, said Danny Califf. And for young guys, its a great learning experience. To step on the field against a great side and be able to control emotions and put best foot forward, we can prove ourselves on a large stage.
E-mail Ryan Bright at email@example.com