July 10, 2013
VIDEO: How Messi & Friends Came Together for the ’Cats
EVANSTON, Ill. – By now, everyone is familiar with former Northwestern men’s soccer player Matt Eliason and his story from the show-stopping performance he put on at last Saturday’s Messi & Friends vs. The Rest of the World exhibition match at Soldier Field.
But the story doesn’t end there for the former ’Cats that played in the match. In the week leading up to the game, Northwestern head coach Tim Lenahan was contacted to see if any former players would be interested in participating in the match. Lenahan, who led the Wildcats to the last two Big Ten regular-season titles, also was asked to be an assistant coach where he would not only coach past Wildcats, but also Santiago Solari, former Real Madrid star and one of Lenahan's former players at Stockton College.
On the day of the match, just hours before the 6 p.m. start time, Lenahan reached out to four more former Wildcats to see if they wanted to play, a few of which were planning on attending the match as fans.
In total, nine former NU men’s soccer players, who are accustomed to playing in rec leagues and not against the best players in the world, were invited to participate in the match and the backstories are endless.
Here’s a quick glimpse:
• Just before the match Eliason made mention to an NU staffer covering the event “Good luck making us sound good against a bunch of professionals.” Check out the text message exchange between Lenahan and Eliason in the days leading up to the match.
• Gerardo Alvarez, who was one of the best players to come through Northwestern as a two-time All-Big Ten honoree and 2003 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, had not played much soccer following his time at NU due to injuries. When Lenahan called Gerardo to ask if he wanted to play, he thought he meant play golf or tennis...not soccer. Alvarez is of Argentinian descent so it was quite meaningful for him to play alongside Messi. Also, Gerardo’s father-in-law is a huge Messi fan and Gerardo purchased tickets for him for the event, not telling him that he was playing in it. There is a great video of Gerardo’s father-in-law in complete shock after he sees him on the field with Messi.
• Brad Napper was one of the first commitments in Lenahan's first recruiting class in 2002 and committed to Northwestern while in the midst of a 35 game winless streak. He also spent a year as an assistant coach at Northwestern. Brad was drafted right out of school by FC Dallas, worked for the Dallas Mavericks and now is a bond trader in Chicago.
• David Roth – the all-time assist leader in Northwestern history - logged 90 minutes in the Messi match and can be seen in lots of photos making the professionals laugh at something he said. He played a year for the New York Red Bulls, which is the same club Thierry Henry, who served the assist to Matt Eliason on his bicycle-kick goal, plays for now. The year Dave Roth was with the Red Bulls in 2008, the team went to the MLS Cup Final, the only year in history they have achieved that level of success. According to Lenahan that was "probably because the team was laughing the whole season with Dave around."
• Geoff Fallon, who was one of the late adds on Saturday, got engaged the night before the match. After graduating from Northwestern in 2009 with a degree in civil engineering, Geoff worked for US Army Corps of Engineers and was in Afghanistan for a period of time.
• Mark Blades was the first player in program history to be named a two-time NSCAA All-American. A four-year NCAA Tournament participant, he was a three-time All-Big Ten selection and 2009 Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Year.
• Cody Stanley was on his way to Soldier Field to tailgate for the event when he received a phone call from Lenahan asking him to play.
• Oliver Kupe, who also was a late add, speaks seven different languages and was speaking French with Thierry Henry upon entering the locker room. Kupe was drafted by Real Salt Lake during the 2012 MLS Supplemental Draft but decided to forego that opportunity to start his career with Merrill Lynch in Chicago.
• Tommy Tombridge, who just graduated in June, only played six games during his four seasons at Northwestern, but ended up being the winning goalkeeper on Messi’s squad. He just signed a 10-year commitment to become an officer in the U.S. Air Force to attend pilot school.
As you can see, it was a special day for the Northwestern men’s soccer family and something that these Wildcats will cherish forever.
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