It was only a month ago that Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso was standing in a stadium in South Africa hoisting the the World Cup trophy.
“And once you have that trophy in your hands, the rest of the trophies they seem, not meaningless, but they are not as important, of course,” Alonso said.
Alonso has managed to change focus quickly, though. On Saturday, playing for the first time since the World Cup, he went into the game in the second half and scored the deciding goal in Real Madrid’s 3-2 exhibition victory over the Galaxy in front of 89,134 at the Rose Bowl.
The comeback victory, the second for Real Madrid during its short stay in California, won’t count in the standings. But it provided an important boost of confidence for the team, which begins play in three weeks in the Spanish league.
And the expectations, said new Coach Jose Mourinho, “are huge.”
Chief among those expectations is a league title, something Real Madrid hasn’t won in two years. It hasn’t won the UEFA Championship League in eight seasons and the last time it won the Copa del Rey, Spain’s national cup competition, was 1993.
That’s a drought that Mourinho, hired in late May, is supposed to end.
Real Madrid, after all, boasts a roster that includes five World Cup champions as well as Portuguese international Cristiano Ronaldo, the highest-paid player in the world. Mourinho, still searching for a cohesive strategy for his new team, kept most of those players on the bench in the first half Saturday and the Galaxy took advantage, scoring twice in the final five minutes to take a 2-0 lead.
The second half was a different story, though, as Ronaldo and Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain took over. Ronaldo set up Real Madrid’s first score seven minutes into the half with a left-footed pass that freed Higuain for an easy score.
Higuain scored the equalizer 10 minutes later when the Galaxy lost the ball trying to clear a rebound out of its end. Alonso then put the Spanish ahead to stay in the 71st minute, collecting another long rebound of a save by backup Galaxy keeper Josh Saunders at the edge of the penalty area and sending it to the back of the net.
Todd Dunivant and Landon Donovan accounted for the Galaxy goals, with Dunivant getting his off a wild scramble in front of the Real Madrid net in the 40th minute and Donovan scoring in first-half extra time on a penalty kick, awarded when Royston Ricky Drenthe fouled Juninho with a kick to the face.
Before any of that, however, the Galaxy said goodbye to midfielder Clint Mathis, who had announced he was retiring after the game. Mathis, making his first start of the year, played the first 26 minutes before leaving to modest applause in favor of Tristan Bowen.
Mathis, who tore cartilage in his left knee during training camp, has been hobbled by knee injuries throughout a career that started at the Rose Bowl in a Galaxy uniform 12 years ago.
“It was a big day for me,” said Mathis, who scored 61 goals in 11 Major League Seasons spent with five teams. “I didn’t want, necessarily, to end it this early. But it was great to end my career with the same team and in the same stadium where it started.