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Galaxy draws Real Madrid in world club tournament; participating in prestigious tournament will also spread L.A. thin.

By Gary Davidson
SoccerTimes

(Tuesday, March 6, 2001) -- The prestige is unmistakable. But the Los Angeles Galaxy heads to this summer’s FIFA Club World Championship -- and a first-round meeting with powerful European Champions League titlist Real Madrid -- also knowing its participation comes at a cost.

To play on the international stage in an event it has no reasonable chance to win, the Galaxy must traverse a harder road than usual in pursuit of its first Major League Soccer championship.

The world club championship July 28-August 12 in Spain falls right in the middle of the MLS’s sixth season, requiring the rescheduling of several games.

"It will make league play for one more difficult for us because there will be more Wednesday games," Los Angeles coach Sigi Schmid said. "That will put more strain on the team."

After today’s draw in La Coruna, Spain, the Galaxy found itself in Group C of the 12-team tournament, facing in preliminary group play Real Madrid, Ghana’s Hearts of Oak, the 2000 African Champions Cup winners, and Japan’s Jubilo Iwata, the Asian Club Championship runnerup.

"This is one of the most exciting draws for not only the Los Angeles Galaxy, but for the entire MLS," said Galaxy defender Paul Caligiuri, a member of the 1990 and 1994 U.S. World Cup teams. "Especially, to draw Real Madrid, who is one of the most renowned teams in the entire world. I also believe that the teams we have drawn are excited to draw the Los Angeles Galaxy, because soccer is so exciting in the United States at this stage.

"Personally, this ranks right up there with the World Cups because this is a version of the World Cup, but for club teams. What makes it so much more special is that you work so hard all season long and, in this case, for five seasons with the Galaxy, to reach an opportunity like this. These are guys that you spend day in and day out with."

The top team in each group (listed below) and the second-place club with the best record advance to the semifinals. "We are very pleased with the draw and our goal is to advance ourselves into the semifinals, but we realize that it is going to take a lot of hard work on our behalf," Schmid said. "Being able to have the opportunity to play in Madrid versus Real Madrid is a tremendous opportunity for the players and the entire Galaxy organization. If we are going to go to Spain, it makes a lot of sense to play Real in Madrid, so that is a good thing for us.

"We have a huge responsibility because we are representing the Galaxy, U.S. Soccer and CONCACAF, our region. As a result, this is a great chance for the Galaxy to make a statement for our country and our region."

Los Angeles, which qualified by winning the CONCACAF Champions Cup in January, finds itself in the dilemma of competing against teams, many of whose players individually are paid more than MLS teams are allowed to pay their entire teams. In addition to that, while the other participants will have deep talent pools of highly-paid performers, MLS will not allow Los Angeles to add to its roster limit of 18 players (plus certain exceptions), all whose salaries must fit under the $1.7 million cap.

"We are trying to put our team together for the MLS season and that will be the team participating in Spain," Schmid said. "It is very difficult to add a player only for that tournament because of all of the hard work the rest of our players on this team have put in. Obviously, if a there was a significant injury that occurred to our team in the first part of the season, we hope the league would try and help us overcome the loss of that player."

The Galaxy must devise a plan compete with the likes of Real Madrid, which employs a bevy of world-renowned players such as Raul and Figo.

"Either one of those players makes more than our entire salary cap," Schmid said. "Seriously, I think any time you play players with that kind of quality it requires a great amount of concentration and effort on behalf of your team. At the end of the day, they do not know who we are and maybe we can surprise them a little bit."

Said L.A. playmaker Mauricio Cienfuegos, ""I consider those two (Raul and Figo) to be very exceptional players, but I also believe in myself and my team. If we go to this tournament well prepared, not just mentally, but physically and tactically then I believe we can make some noise in Spain."

Particpating in this tournament guarantees MLS, a single-entity operation that owns all its 12 teams, a multimillion-dollar payday. The Galaxy is guaranteed approximately $2.5 million with the event's champion earning $8.3 million.

"Distribution of the dollars is something that MLS is still clarifying," Schmid said. "There is going to be some divvying of the money between MLS, the club and the players. What exact percentage will go in what direction is yet to be decided."

Corinthians of Brazil won the first edition of the tournament, played last year. The United States intends to bid to host the tournament in 2003.

The field:

Group A
Boca Juniors (Argentina) - Winners of 2000 South American Libertadores Cup
Deportivo Coruna (Spain) - Spanish champion, 1999-2000 season
Wollongong Wolves (Australia) - Winners of 2001 Oceania Champions' Cup
Zamalek (Egypt) - Winner of 2000 African Cup Winners' Cup

Group B
Palmeiras (Brazil) - Winner of 1999 Libertadores Cup
CD Olimpia (Honduras) - Runnerup of 2000 CONCACAF Champions' Cup
Galatasaray (Turkey) - Winner of 2000 UEFA Super Cup
Al-Hilal (Saudi Arabia) - Winner of 2000 Asian Super Cup

Group C
Real Madrid (Spain) - Winner og 2000 UEFA Champions League
Jubilo Iwata (Japan)- Winner of 1999 Asian Super Cup
Hearts of Oak (Ghana) - Winners of 2000 African Champions League
Los Angeles Galaxy (United States) - Winner of 2000 CONCACAF Champions' Cup

Gary Davidson is managing editor of SoccerTimes and can be e-mailed at editor@soccertimes.com.

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