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Clash of titans -- almost

D.C. United set for England's best

WASHINGTON -- As if he weren't already excited enough, Freddy Adu was asked to contemplate how it would feel if D.C. United could somehow find a way beat Chelsea, the Premier League champion from England.

''You know how happy we'll be?" Adu said, his eyes lighting up. ''How happy I'll be? We're playing against, in my opinion, the best team in the world!"

For the first time, the reigning champions of the top soccer leagues in the United States and England are playing each other, and it's a mismatch for the ages. Chelsea's superstar-laden team -- yes, it is probably the best team in the world -- has a payroll approaching $200 million, about 100 times more than United pays its players in the newer, slower, and salary-capped MLS.

United coach Peter Nowak can only hope that his awestruck players' legs don't get all rubbery when they take the field before an expected crowd of 30,000 to 35,000 tonight at FedEx Field.

''We have to make sure the pressure is not going to overwhelm them," Nowak said. ''There's nothing to lose, but this is a prestigious game and everyone wants to present ourselves in a good way."

The game is the second leg of Chelsea's three-game tour of the United States. The visit is a chance to get the players in shape for the upcoming Premier League season while adding to the marketing power of a team whose overseas popularity is still far behind giants such as English rival Manchester United and Spain's Real Madrid.

Yet, even though the game is a just an exhibition, United's players know they represent a league that lacks the pace of even a friendly effort from England's best.

''I don't think we're pushing to beat Chelsea," midfielder Ben Olsen said. ''We'd like to win the game, of course, but we're realistic. They're a great soccer team. We're going to play the best we can, and hopefully they'll play the best they can. That's what people are coming out to see. It's going to be a great test to see where we're at on a global scale."

United has hosted European clubs before, but Chelsea is the most impressive visitor to date. Also, because of the timing of the match, the visitors are expected to play most of their top players.

''We're not just playing for us, we're playing for MLS," United midfielder Dema Kovalenko said.

The 10-year-old American league is still somewhat of a novelty for the English players, but Chelsea captain John Terry does know a little bit about United.

''I've seen them quite a few times, when we have late away games and we get back at 2, 3, or 4 in the morning and switch the TV on, and some of the games are on overseas," Terry said. ''I know Freddy Adu plays there."

In fact, Chelsea is Adu's favorite team, and the 16-year-old prodigy has made no secret of his desire to play for Chelsea one day. Adu was a guest in the team's luxury box when Chelsea played an exhibition game in Philadelphia during a tour last year.

''He's on our radar," Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck said.

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