Local soccer legend Pablo Mastroeni returned home to play in another high profile game in which his team wasn’t the main attraction.
The game didn’t count in the standings, but when the opponent is world power house Real Madrid, it’s a must-see event. More than 38,000 soccer fans attended Thursday’s Real Madrid-L.A. Galaxy friendly at University of Phoenix to primarily lay eyes on Ronaldo, Real Madrid’s otherwordly player.
But you can bet that Mastroeni also had his share of fans at the game. The ironman of Major League Soccer as well as the other big names of the L.A. Galaxy didn’t play in the first half of Real Madrid’s 3-1 victory.
(Thunderbird High alumnus Pablo Mastroeni is interviewed after Thursday's game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Photo by Jose Garcia/aia365.com)
But Mastroeni started the second half with the captain’s armband on. In 2007, he was also the captain when Mastroeni played at University of Phoenix Stadium for the first time in a game that attracted the largest crowd ever (62,462) to watch a soccer game in Arizona.
Mastroeni played for the U.S. National Team during that 2-0 victory over region rival Mexico in front of a pro-Mexico crowd. Thursday’s game gave Mastroeni another chance to cement his veteran role on a relatively young L.A. Galaxy team.
The holding midfielder was traded to the Galaxy this season after spending 12 seasons with the Colorado Rapids. This season Mastroeni became the first MLS field player to play in at least one game in 16 seasons.
That accomplishment almost didn’t happen, though. A concussion and its symptoms kept Mastroeni out the game for a quite a while, leaving the 36 year old to complete retirement.
But the Phoenix Thunderbird High grad opted to continue playing. Mastroeni is the first Arizona high school product to play for the U.S. in a World Cup, having done so twice (2002, 2006).
“Any time you get to play in front of family and friends is awesome, especially at this point in my career,” Mastroeni said. “There are going to be few and far between chances for that to happen again. I think it was a great experience for the Valley to see the kind of talent that exits all over the world we’ve had to pleasure to compete against for a long time.”