PHILADELPHIA — If only the Philadelphia Union could erase the opening 11 minutes of their 2-1 loss to Real Madrid on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.
In the beginning of the first half, the Union looked a bit shell-shocked taking on the Spanish giants, making two uncharacteristic mistakes on defense. A world-class team like Real Madrid makes you pay for those type of miscues, and they did.
At that point, it looked like the rout was on, but the Union had other plans.
After allowing the two early goals, Philadelphia held serve with the most successful team in the history of the sport.
“I think after the two goals everyone realized how slow we started,” said left back Gabriel Farfan. “We re-grouped and got it together. I think we were on the same page after that first 20 minutes.”
The Union had a decent amount of chances to score in the first half, including near goals by Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Califf.
But the second half is when Philadelphia started firing on all cylinders.
“We just settled down and played our game,” said midfielder Justin Mapp. “Even when they went up 2-0, we felt like we played better from that point on. We just settled down as a team and played up to our abilities.”
The Union defense began to contain Real Madrid’s offensive stars. Philadelphia kept it tight in the back and allowed only two shots on goal in the second half. They also held second half sub Cristiano Ronaldo — not a bad player to bring on after the break, huh? — to a couple of free kick opportunities and one shot on goal.
“I was impressed with the Union, said superstar Brazilian midfielder Kaká. "They played very well. They gave us a tough match. They’re a very good team. It wasn’t easy. We were happy to win this match. They played very good in the second half.”
When Roger Torres, Michael Farfan, Danny Mwanga and Jack McInerney came on in the second half, the Union continued to push forward against Los Merengues, getting out wide and moving the ball with crispness and fluidity.
“[Real Madrid] was very organized and sharp,” said Mwanga. “We had to do a lot of running to find [open passing lanes]. But, I think everyone did a great job trying to play faster, because you can’t take too many touches with a team like that — they’ll shut you down. We moved side to side and played quicker, that helped us in the second half.”
All the hard work from the Union subs came to a head when Michael Farfan was able to find the back of the net with a perfectly weighted chip shot over Real Madrid goalkeeper Tomas Mejias.
“It felt great to score on one of the best teams in the world,” said Farfan.
Farfan's goal brought the Union to within a goal, but the 2-1 scoreline would stand until the final whistle despite a couple of near-misses in added time.
In the beginning of the match, the Union looked to be a little caught up in the hype of playing against a team of Real Madrid's caliber. When it was all said and done, though, Philadelphia held their own against one of the very best clubs in the world.
“At first you see the players and you are kind of star-struck, but in the end you have to realize it’s just another game,” said Michael Farfan. “We did a better job in the second half and we got a lot of chances.”
So while it's fair to wonder if the Union could've — or perhaps even deserved to — come away with at least a draw, it's hard to argue with the impression they made on 57,305 fans in attendance and many others who expected a larger margin of victory.
“All in all I think we gained some respect tonight,” Mapp said with a smile.