CARSON, Calif. – Thursday’s international friendly between the LA Galaxy and Real Madrid (7:30 pm PT, ESPN2, espn3.com, 1330 AM, LIVE CHAT) could accurately be billed as a meeting of two reigning champions built on rosters that shine with star players and high-profile coaches. The two teams, however, enter the World Football Challenge match in much different places.
The hosts, two-thirds of the way through the MLS season, finally seem to be clicking and positioning themselves for a playoff push and MLS Cup defense. Madrid on the other hand come to The Home Depot Center in preseason preparation for the La Liga season which begins on August 19. The game against the Galaxy will be the first of four World Football Challenge matches for Madrid, while it will be the second and final international friendly of the summer for the Galaxy.
Galaxy discuss Real Madrid match
“When you play Real Madrid it doesn’t get old at all,” Galaxy midfielder Mike Magee said. “Even though we’ve done it a couple of times, it’s a once in a lifetime experience.”
Real Madrid has visited Southern California in each of the past two summers, recording wins over the Galaxy in friendlies both in August 2010 and again in July 2011. This meeting between the two clubs will be a more intimate affair than past meetings. The last two times the Galaxy hosted Madrid, they did so at a pair of Los Angeles’ largest and most iconic sporting venues. In 2010, more than 89,000 fans were at the Rose Bowl to see LA take a 2-0 lead before falling 3-2 to Madrid. Last season at the L.A. Coliseum, more than 56,000 were on hand for a 4-1 Real Madrid victory.
After the past results, Magee said the Galaxy “know that we better be on our best game just to compete.”
The only other time that Real Madrid visited The Home Depot Center was in 2005, when a capacity crowd saw them beat the Galaxy 2-0.
“I think these games are for the fans and they’re going to see one of the great teams in the world, arguably maybe the best team in the world last year and some obvious stars coming in here,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said.
Last season, Real Madrid won the Spanish league in stunning fashion, scoring a record 121 goals en route to a 32-2-4 record and 100 points. The high-powered Madrid offense averaged almost three goals per game, while the defense conceded less than one per contest.
WATCH: View from the Booth
It is almost impossible to concisely list the world-class players that highlight Real Madrid’s roster without leaving out an international star. The offense in led by forwards Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain. Playmaking midfielders include Mesut Ozil, Kaka and Xabi Alonso. The defense is anchored by goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas as well as fellow Spaniard Sergio Ramos and Portuguese force Pepe.
“It’s a huge experience for every player. It’s history. One day when you retire [it’s something] to keep in your mind, in your history,” Galaxy midfielder Marcelo Sarvas said ahead of his first-ever meeting with the nine-time European champions.
Magee said that ahead of the game, players will think about matching up against and witnessing some of the world’s greatest in person, but that “once you step on the field that all kind of goes out the window and you’re just trying to win. No matter how realistic that is, once you get out there you forget who you’re playing against.”
The Galaxy enter the game on a run of form that includes a five-game unbeaten streak in MLS play, as well as a 1-1 draw with English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur last week.
Arena said that the two international friendlies are easy for him as a coach. “The results are not important as much as it is that the exhibition is right and the fans get to see what they want to see.”
While Arena didn’t specify what kind of squad LA would run out, he suggested it would be competitive and similar to the approach taken in draw against Tottenham.
“No good player wants to go out and have a half effort and no team should want to go out on the field and lose a game,” Arena said. “Regardless of the minutes we play, we hope our guys are competitive, confident and play the game in the right spirit.”
LA will take on the reigning La Liga champion and its array of stars just three days before meeting conference foe Seattle. The Galaxy sit in the fifth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, but are within one point of both Vancouver and Seattle, who are tied for third place. The tight playoff race makes Sunday’s road match more important for LA, but that doesn’t mean that Thursday’s match isn’t one they’re trying to win.
“Of course the most important [game] for us is Sunday against Seattle,” Sarvas said. “Every time you step on the field you want to do your best, you want to win the game. So we’re not [going to] make it easy for Madrid.”
Kickoff is set for 7:30. and fans not coming to The Home Depot Center for the match can see it broadcast live nationally in English on ESPN2, in Spanish on ESPN Deportes and online on ESPN3.com.
WATCH: Match Preview