Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Trofeo Santiago Bernabeu

Is MLS ready for prime time? In just a few hours, the MLS Select team will face off against Real Madrid in their final pre-season match known as Trofeo Santiago Bernabeu. This is the 26th time this match has been played. In the past teams like AC Milan and Liverpool have made the trip to Spain, but today, for the first time, an American side will have a chance at the trophy.

This is a wonderful opportunity for a league that is still struggling to get international respect to shine. However, if things go bad, real bad, it could make it harder for similar games to be played in the future. It is a gamble, but MLS needs to take such risks.

The MLS side does have a couple things going for them. Since they are well into their season, they are game fit; something Madrid might not be able to say. Also, since many in Madrid do not see their matches and highlights, their style of play is unknown. However, they are still playing Real in Madrid with only two days off since their last match (for most of them), so these advantages are not going to be as great as one would hope.

What I expect from this match is a MLS side that does well in the first and last 20 minutes. Real Madrid should be able to walk away winners, but I do not think they will embarrass the MLS. I do have a feeling that Jeff Cunningham or a midfielder (like Youri Djorkaeff or Justin Mapp) will get the first goal of the evening, but Madrid will answer back with 10 minutes.

I know there have been a lot of discussions in the US as to the value of this match. With a lot of teams either playing in the US Open Cup tomorrow or playing in "need to win for playoff reasons" games this weekend, people are wondering why play this game? The truth is that this is about perception. American soccer is still seen as an oxymoron. By playing in events like this, the rest of the world can see what we are doing here. It might not be the best thing for the short-term, but one needs to look five years or so down the line.

So my guess for the match, Real Madrid 3 - MLS Select 2

This game will be shown on Fox Soccer Channel at 3:30pm EST.


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