The financial aspects make high-profile summer friendlies an inevitability, but the scheduling still stings for exhausted athletes.CARSON, Calif. -- "Landon, what does this game mean to you?" Scott French, a LA beat reporter, asked.
"Um." Landon Donovan sighed. Then he smirked. Then he composed himself and gave a perfectly diplomatic and soundbite-friendly answer that began, "It's a fun game to be a part of."
Donovan's been around the block. He knows how to engage with reporters and what to leave out when speaking on the record. He's also well aware how integral friendlies like the one between the LA Galaxy and Real Madrid are for the development of the sport in the country and MLS' financial health.
"It's important to our club," Donovan said.
It's also awful from a sporting sense.
"Terrible," Robbie Keane said about the timing of the game. He rolled his head around on his neck as if to indicate how wide-reaching the fatigue effects are. "That's being totally honest with you."
This particular friendly comes sandwiched between a visit to Frisco, Texas to play FC Dallas and a jaunt up to Seattle to face Sounders FC. Since mid-July, the Galaxy will have played seven games in 22 days.
"There's never really a good timing for these things," Donovan said. "It always comes in the middle of the season and in that way it's a little burdensome."
But with lucrative friendlies helping pushing clubs toward the black – MLS commissioner Don Garber estimated the total investment in the league at $2 billion to Sporting News – they continue to elbow into the hot summer of the regular season.
"When else are we going to play?" Bruce Arena said. "We have no choice in the matter."
The clubs on tour – Liverpool, Tottenham, Swansea City, Aston Villa, Stoke City, Lyon and Montpellier have joined World Football Challenge participants Chelsea, Madrid Paris Saint-Germain, Celtic, Santos Laguna and AC Milan – come to the United States for the high-end facilities, salivating marketing prospects and to build fitness levels during preseason.
"It's very hot," Keane recalled of his preseason trips Stateside. "I remember a few years ago I went with Tottenham, we played in New York Red Bulls at one o'clock in the afternoon on Sunday. It was 110 something. Clearly we weren't used to that, but it was good for our fitness."
Arena said he would play two separate teams, limiting his players to 45 minutes each. He expects the reigning La Liga champion to do the same.
"This game is probably more for Real Madrid than it is for us to be honest with you," Keane said. "It's for them for the preseason. We're not going to win the championship by beating Real Madrid tomorrow."
Donovan repeated a similar line about the friendly not offering a trophy. But he's not expecting a chance to relax on Thursday night in the Home Depot Center.
"They come into these games that really realistically mean nothing and they play really hard," the U.S. international said. "They play like it's a game that means something. I'm very impressed by that.
"It would be very easy for a team of that caliber that just won La Liga to come here and say, 'You know what, we're just going to mess around and take it casual.' But I promise you they'll come here tomorrow and play it like it's a real game."
So with a ferocious opponent and little intrinsic motivation, most of the Galaxy leaned back on the one agreed sporting positive of this event: youth development. With the heavy roster turnover from halftime substitutions, young Americans will step out on the same grass as some of the world's greats.
"It's good for young lads who haven't experienced playing against players like this," Keane said. The Republic of Ireland striker recently captained his side against Iker Casillas, Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso in a 4-0 loss to Spain in Euro 2012.
"It's always a game that especially the young players look forward to because you come up against some of the best players and obviously one of the best managers in football," David Beckham, who played for Real Madrid for four years before joining the Galaxy, said. "The experience of playing in these games is exceptional for the kids."
"I'm going to venture a guess and say every player on their roster is worth more than any player on our roster," Donovan said. That star power is a treat for the inexperienced players on the Galaxy as well as the sold-out stadium.
"It'll be a good day. The fans will enjoy it," Arena said. "We have people who want to come out and see the game. It'll be played again in the right spirit and I think it will be a very entertaining game for the fans."
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