CHICAGO — As consolation prizes go, it wasn’t much.
But it’s all the MLS All-Stars have.
"I believe the league showed a good face against one of the best teams in the world," coach Veljko Paunovic said after his MLS squad lost a penalty shootout to Royal Madrid. "I’m going to repeat that over and over.
"Five years from now, I think it would be great to face Real Madrid again," he added, "and see where we are then."
After a 1-1 tie to end regulation, the visitors finally shook free from their determined hosts, 4-2, in penalty kicks before a sold-out Soldier Field crowd. The decisive kick was delivered by Marcelo, a starter who came on in the second half and sent his spot kick low right and past diving goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
"People enjoyed it, which is the most important thing," Real coach Zinedine Zidane said afterward.
Then again, Zidane had the luxury of trotting out a second wave of starters early in the second half, nearly all of whom were better than any of the front-liners the MLS started the game with.
Real made all four of its tries in the penalty round. Both Dom Dwyer and Giovani Do Santos, the first two shooters sent out by MLS, were stopped by Real goalkeeper Luca Zidane, the coach’s son, and the crossbar, respectively.
Madrid took a 1-0 lead just inside the hour mark, after a clever through pass from Real’s Dani Ceballos that split the MLS defence and sent Borja Mayoral in alone against Frei. Mayoral’s right-footed shot barely beat a sliding tackle from MLS defender Dax McCarty before eluding Frei’s dive to his left.
The All-Stars drew level in the 89th minute on a sequence that resembled a pinball game. McCarty headed a corner from Diego Valeri that bounced low off the right post and then hit teammate Kellyn Acosta. Dwyer, who’s made a splash during his brief tenure with the U.S. national team, came through the crowd in front of the net and his header from close-in tied the game.
"It was a great atmosphere. It shows how much the game’s grown here in this country," Dwyer said. "Obviously, Real Madrid’s going to attract a lot of fans, but it’s really grown here."
The match came at the end of Real Madrid’s summer tour and as expected, Zidane reached deep into his bench to begin the game. Without Cristiano Ronaldo, who did not make the tour, only four other players who started in the team’s Champions League final win — defender Sergio Ramos, midfielders Toni Kroos and Isco, and goalkeeper Keylor Navas — were in the starting lineup.
Of those four, only Isco returned for the second half. But he left just past the hour mark as the second wave of Madrid starters — Marcelo was joined by Gareth Bale, Casemiro and Karim Benzema — trotted onto the pitch.
MLS coach Veljko Paunovic responded with 10 new players after halftime, but that side was no more effective than the starters until Dwyer equalized.
"The last minutes were tough for us," he said.
So was the early going.
Madrid had nearly all of the good first-half chances and Mayoral missed the best one in the 27th minute with a curling drive from the top of the box that was wide of the right post. Ramos missed the most entertaining chance when he raced into the box alone and tried to chip goalkeeper Tim Howard just before halftime. The cheeky attempt flew over the crossbar.
MLS defender Greg Garza suffered a separated shoulder just two minutes into the game when he was tackled by Isco near midfield and fell hard on his right side. He was replaced by veteran DaMarcus Beasley five minutes later.
The All-Stars best chance in the opening half featured a deft pass from Kaka deep in the box that set David Villa up from point-blank range. But Madrid’s defence converged to smother the attempt.
"We had to adjust our plan because of the injury to Garza," Paunovic said.
The match marked the 13th consecutive year the MLS team faced a top international side and dropped their record to 7-6, with two of the losses coming on penalties.