FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida (Reuters) - In a run-down stadium on the industrial outskirts of Florida’s Fort Lauderdale, record Real Madrid goal-scorer Raul made his belated debut for U.S. second division side New York Cosmos on Saturday.
While former Spain team mate David Villa enjoyed a debut with New York City in front of 40,000 fans at Yankee Stadium last month, fewer than 12,000 turned up to watch Raul play on a field showing the markings from a recent American football game.
The 37-year-old signed in October with the Cosmos, who play in the North American Soccer League, a tier below Major League Soccer, but had to wait through the winter off-season before making his first league start.
Raul, who scored a club record 323 times in 741 games for Real, is also serving as a technical adviser for the Cosmos youth academy, which he will take over on a full-time basis when he retires from playing.
Lockhart Stadium was the home to the original Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the 1970s and 80s, a side featuring former greats George Best and Gerd Mueller.
The venue appears to have changed little since those days.
Despite the low-key surrounds, Raul said he was not affected by playing at a venue that pales in comparison to Real’s Santiago Bernabeu.
“Football is the same thing, same dimensions in the goals, a ball,” said Raul after his side’s 1-0 win.
”Yes, it’s totally different, but I‘m taking it as a life experience and I‘m enjoying it a lot with my team mates, with the project the Cosmos have going,” he told reporters.
Raul’s debut coincided with the first game for the Strikers under their new Brazilian ownership group, which includes three-times World Player of the Year Ronaldo, a former team mate of Raul’s at Real, who greeted the crowd before the game.
Raul showed flashes of his old self, with some nice touches and the occasional clever pass, but played much of the game at little more than walking pace before being substituted in the 53rd minute with a slight muscle strain.
“It was precautionary, better for him to come out. We want to have him the whole year,” said coach Giovanni Savarese.
“He has been training very well. He is looking very healthy, but we want to make sure that we save him a little and he will be ready for next week.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford