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MADRID MYSTIQUE

Times Staff Writer

They lined up in the hundreds on Sunday evening, and by the time the players they had come to see jogged out onto the field -- David Beckham among them -- there were 8,591 fans inside the Home Depot Center in Carson.

Not for a game. For a training session. At $30 a ticket.

Real Madrid, three-time world champion, nine-time European champion and 29-time Spanish champion, packs them in even 5,892 miles from home.

Even when all it is doing is running wind sprints and juggling the ball around for an hour or so before heading off to party at a Hollywood nightclub -- Prey, in this instance.

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Among those watching were former Galaxy coach Sigi Schmid and former Chivas USA coach Thomas Rongen. You pick up coaching tips where you can, it seems.

Real Madrid plays the Galaxy tonight in what is officially a friendly match, with nothing on the line except pride for both teams, especially the Major League Soccer club.

The Galaxy is not quaking at the prospect, even though it is a 10-year-old club meeting a 103-year-old club. Cobi Jones, for one, is almost blase about it.

“When you’ve played in three World Cups,” he began, then trailed off, laughing.

And, as Doug Hamilton, the Galaxy’s president and general manager, said earlier Sunday, “It’s just 11 against 11 once they step on the field.”

Real Madrid strolled onto the pitch 35 minutes after the announced time Sunday evening and in dribs and drabs. World champion Roberto Carlos was one of the first out and drew a loud cheer. He acknowledged it with a casual wave of his hand.

Brazilian compatriot Ronaldo drew a similar cheer. World champion Zinedine Zidane of France was warmly welcomed. Beckham even more so.

When the players began running laps, the crowd applauded and cheered louder than ever. Portuguese star Luis Figo was singled out with chants of “Figo, Figo, Figo.”

An hour later, it was all over, except for Real Madrid TV and Fox Sports en Espanol television networks, the rights holders, doing some player interviews in the tunnel.

Then they were gone. Prey awaited.

*

The 27,000 tickets for tonight’s match sold out in next to no time, even at prices ranging from $50 for a spot on the grass to $150 at midfield.

And the sellout only fueled fan interest.

“It is the greatest feeding frenzy I have ever witnessed in my 25-year career,” said Tim Leiweke, president and chief executive of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, which operates the Galaxy and four other MLS teams. “I have so many friends I had no idea I had.”

The game could have been played in the Coliseum or even the Rose Bowl, but Leiweke, reaching effortlessly into the world of hyperbole, said that option was never seriously considered.

“To Real Madrid’s credit,” he said, “they got the fact that doing this in the ‘cathedral’ simply adds to the aura and the mystique of Real Madrid. The demand is crazy. This is bigger than U2. This is huge....

“It wouldn’t have happened this way if it had been at the Coliseum. We’d be sitting here and we’d have maybe 40,000 seats sold and it wouldn’t have had the buzz.

“The buzz here is typical L.A. It’s, ‘If I can’t get it, I want it. If I can’t get it, it must be important.’ ”

*

On Sunday morning, at a luxury hotel in Marina del Rey where Real Madrid is staying, four of their number met the media and the media met their match.

Easy questions were answered politely. More troublesome ones, particularly regarding multimillion-dollar player moves, were deftly deflected.

The buzz, to borrow Leiweke’s word, around the soccer world is all about whether Ronaldo will be sent back to Italy in exchange for another Brazilian, Adriano. And whether a third Brazilian, Robinho, will make the move to Spain from Santos in Brazil. And whether it will be Michael Owen or Guti or Figo, or all three, who depart to make room.

Nothing was learned.

Emilio Butragueno, the former Spanish World Cup striker and onetime summer intern with the Dodgers, is Real Madrid’s vice president and sporting director. He was the most forthcoming, but even he was guarded at times.

Question: “Can you give us an idea where you stand right now on the [possible acquisition of] Robinho and Adriano and the potential departure of Guti and Luis Figo?”

Answer: “We are under way right now in conversations and it’s very difficult to predict the end. We have to wait.”

Question: “Can you tell us what it is about Robinho that attracts Real Madrid?

Answer: “Well, he’s very talented. He is very young and we suppose he is going to be one of the biggest stars in the future.”

Question: “Does he bring something you don’t have on the team right now?”

Answer: “In football, when you are in the middle of a [negotiating] process, you have to be very prudent. So we don’t want to say something that maybe is not going to help us.”

Vanderlei Luxemburgo, Real Madrid’s Brazilian coach, was an equally difficult nut to crack.

Question: “How would you compare Ronaldo and Adriano, and could they play together for Brazil in the World Cup next summer?”

Answer: “That’s a question for the Brazilian national team, not for Real Madrid. I like both players very much, but that’s for [Brazil Coach Carlos Alberto] Parreira to decide. I’m not going to talk about it.”

Question: “Will Robinho be coming in for Figo?”

Answer: “Let’s talk about the players who are here.”

And so on.

Michael Owen, the English international striker, was less reticent and made some mildly enthusiastic comments about the potential of MLS.

Question: “What do European soccer players think about American soccer players?”

Answer: “We don’t get too much coverage in Europe of MLS. I don’t think there’s too much knowledge of soccer in America. But that’s changing all the time. We know your league has improved and if it keeps improving then I’m sure it’ll also attract some of the top players and attract audiences from around the world.

“It’s still early days and progress needs to be made, but by the looks of things it is being made. Hopefully in a few years you’ll compete with the rest of the teams in the world.”

When 8,591 turn out to see a training session, then there is hope for such hope.


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