CenterLine Report: La Liga champions Atletico Madrid will give Quakes all they can handle

Robert Jonas previews Quakes' tough matchup against Atletico on Sunday

Just days after thumping the Chicago Fire 5-1 at cozy Buck Shaw Stadium, the San Jose Earthquakes take to a bigger stage when they face La Liga champions Atletico Madrid Sunday afternoon at Candlestick Park. Brimming with confidence, the Quakes will face a stern test from Los Rojiblancos, just starting their preseason, as the UEFA Champions League runners-up bring an A-list squad for the international friendly.

Sure, big-names like Spanish strikers Diego Costa and David Villa, transferred during the summer offseason to Chelsea in England and New York City FC of MLS respectively, won’t grace the ‘Stick for Atleti, but plenty of stars will be on display for head coach Diego Simeone’s squad, all still standing after the dust settled on another busy summer for Atletico.

FIFA World Cup participants Juanfran and Koke, both a part of Spain’s squad in Brazil, make up the defensive spine of the team. A trio of Uruguayans, fresh from the recently concluded tournament, are also on the roster — Diego Godin, Jose Maria Gimenez, and Christian Rodriguez — though Godin is not expected to play against the Quakes. No doubt about it, these are world-class players on display at Candlestick Park.

As befitting the runners-up for European club supremacy, Atletico Madrid features other returning World Cup participants like Belgium defender Toby Alderweireld and Portuguese midfielder Tiago Mendes. Recently signed Croatian forward Mario Mandzukic just reported to the club this week and, along with Mendes, is expected to be a spectator on Sunday.

Looking beyond the World Cup stars, Atletico boasts a talented set of young up-and-coming players, notably Brazilian striker Leo Baptistao. Manning the center of the park are likely to be midfield regulars Raul Garcia and Mario Suarez, both prolific Spanish youth players before becoming bedrock members of the Madrid club. In goal, the talented Miguel Angel Moya is likely to get tapped by Simeone to start on Sunday.

The Earthquakes will look forward to the challenge, especially the opportunity to measure themselves against such a storied and successful Spanish side. Their own two World Cup stars, Chris Wondolowski and Victor Bernardez, will anchor the side at Candlestick, looking to make trouble for Madrid on both sides of the ball.

In addition to San Jose’s big names, any number of their running rampant teammates will also take to the field for head coach Mark Watson, eager to play Atletico. Rookie sensation JJ Koval, speedster Cordell Cato, and dynamic forward Billy Schuler will aim to represent the Blue and Black to the best of their abilities. Perhaps even a fresh face or two will make an appearance; after all, summer friendlies are a time for everyone to get involved.

Tickets for the last sporting event ever to be held at Candlestick Park are still available. A chance to witness history like this is not to be missed, and only a week away from a massive league game against the Seattle Sounders at the Levi’s Stadium on August 2, you can join the Quakes in ringing out the old and ringing in the new in Bay Area stadium lore.

Robert Jonas is a writer for CenterLineSoccer.com and SJEarthquakes.com. Send him feedback on Twitter: @RobertJonas