July 7, 2013
WATCH: NU Highlights from Messi & Friends on Wildcats All Access!
WATCH: ESPN Video of Eliason's Bicycle Kick Goal
WATCH: ESPN Video of Northwestern Highlights at Messi & Friends
CHICAGO -- Quite simply, it was a night to remember for Chicago's Big Ten Team.
Members of the Northwestern men's soccer family took centerstage with a handful of the world's most elite footballers Saturday night at the Messi and Friends exhibition event at Soldier Field. With Tim Lenahan, the architect of the two-time Big Ten champion Wildcats program, serving as an assistant coach in the game, nine former 'Cats had the opportunity to test themselves against many of the same players they have idolized throughout their soccer careers.
"What a terrific day for us," Lenahan said after the game. "All these guys I recruited, I promised them something special, and we've won some championships and had some great seasons but I'm not sure I had this vision. A night like this is beyond what even I could visualize. Our kids really represented themselves and Northwestern University so well."
|NU Highlights From Messi & Friends
In addition to Argentine superstar Lionel Messi, the squads for the game -- which aired nationally on ESPN -- included French footballing legend Thierry Henry, former US National Team captain and World Cup veteran Carlos Bocanegra, Premier League star Florent Malouda, and famed Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar.
Despite the array of stars on the pitch, it was 2011 Northwestern alum Matt Eliason -- the all-time leading scorer in Northwestern men's soccer history (33 goals) -- who shined as bright as any of them. Eliason twice found the back of the net in highlight-reel fashion, including a moment he'll never forget in the first half. Eliason received a pass from Henry off his chest and set himself up for a perfectly executed bicycle kick goal from the penalty spot, wowing the large crowd in attendance at Soldier Field.
"Once the ball was in the air, I thought I might as well go for it," said Eliason, who currently works as a banking analyst in Chicago. "It's not every day you get to play with Messi so I thought I'd give it a try and it worked out."
"I just jumped up and pumped my fist like a little kid," said Lenahan of his reaction to Eliason's goal.
Bocanegra had a similar impression of Eliason's wonder strike from his vantage point at centerback.
"He stole the show up there," Bocanegra said. "Coming in and scoring on a bicycle, it will probably be SportsCenter Top 10. I think that was probably the highlight of his life and it was a great goal regardless of where it was."
But Eliason, who also scored on a header in the second half, was just one of many former Wildcats who showed off their skills against a team of world all-stars. Just a few weeks after his college graduation, goalkeeper Tommy Tombridge got the start in the net for Team Messi and made several acrobatic saves against a team packed with firepower.
NU All-Americans David Roth and Mark Blades enjoyed a series of battles on the flank while playing for the World team and Team Messi, respectively.
"The first half-hour of the game I was going 2-on-1 against (former Chelsea star Florent) Malouda, so I was a little out of my league but I'm still in awe of being on the field here tonight," Blades said. "I was going against Henry and Malouda one minute and Dave Roth the next, and he's someone I worked with and know well. I haven't played with some of those (Northwestern) guys in years, so to play in a game like this with them is great."
Other former Wildcats in the game included Gerardo Alvarez, Oliver Kupe, Brad Napper, Geoff Fallon and Cody Stanley. Lenahan also had the chance to watch his friend and former pupil at Division III Stockton College Santiago Solari -- who later played at the highest level for Real Madrid in Spain -- line up against the next generation of Lenahan's disciples at Northwestern.
Visit NUsports.com in the coming days for photos and video highlights from the game.
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