Luis Aragonés had a tough decision to make.
Do you keep one of the world’s best players and a staple in the Spanish National Team for 10 years in the squad or do you exclude him?
Aragonés chose the latter, dropping Real Madrid maestro Raúl from the team ahead of the 2008 European Championships.
“It isn’t a case of ending the debate over Raúl. I focus on the players not the clubs. There are other players who have scored more goals per minutes played, and they aren’t coming either,” Aragonés said in a news conference ahead of the tournament.
Aragonés instead favored the partnership of David Villa and Fernando Torres up top. The decision paid dividends as Spain won the title and Villa was the tournament’s top scorer with four goals, despite missing the final due to injury.
Villa and Raúl step onto the same field together for the first time since 2009 as New York City FC and the New York Cosmos meet in the 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Fourth Round. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. EDT from Shuart Stadium on the campus of Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.
“It’s good to play against Raúl again; he is a legend in Spanish soccer,” Villa said. “It’s important to play against him, but the city’s derby is more important, and we hope to win and continue onto the next round.
“I recently spoke with him when we were at an event for the Spanish league. We knew that this would eventually happen, and I am very excited about seeing him and playing against him, and hopefully we can win.”
The former Spanish internationals are two of the greatest strikers in the world and have their names inked throughout countless domestic and international record books.
Villa, 33, won the 2010-11 Champions League with Barcelona after successful stints at Valencia (2005-10), Zaragoza (2003-05) and Sporting Gijon (2001-03). He also hoisted the 2008 European Championship and 2010 World Cup with Spain.
Raúl, 37, won three Champions League titles (1997-98, 1999-2000, 2001-02) from 1994-2010 with Real Madrid and is the club’s all-time leading scorer with 323 goals.
Villa displaced Raúl as Spain’s top goal scorer on Oct. 12, 2010. The New York City FC captain has 59 goals in 97 appearances, while Raúl found the back of the net 44 times in 102 caps.
“It’s obviously a very important game for us,” Villa said. “Now we’re going to have to prepare for our first game in the Cup and playing in two competitions. In both competitions, we want to get as far as possible. It will be an attractive game for the fans and everyone because we're playing the Cosmos. It’s a different derby. We played the New York Red Bulls in MLS, but this is a derby that can only happen in the Cup. I hope we’ll continue on this good run of form and win matches.”
New York City FC (3-7-5; 14 points) extended their unbeaten run to three matches following consecutive victories over Philadelphia (2-1 on June 6) and a 3-1 win over Montreal on June 13. The Cosmos (5-5-0; 20 points) were crowned NASL Spring Season Champions following a 3-3 draw with Jacksonville on Saturday.
“I can be clear and tell you that we will approach it in a way that we want to win the game,” New York City FC head coach Jason Kreis said. “We’re not going out there as if we’re playing some type of friendly. We’re in an Open Cup. We’re there to win trophies.
“For me, it’s one of the most advantageous tournaments because you only have to win five games and all of the sudden you’ve won a trophy and you’ve got yourself into CONCACAF. CONCACAF Champions League for me and this club is going to be a big goal.”