The charity event hosted Saturday at Soldier field by Argentine soccer star and four-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi was supposed to showcase 36 of some of the world’s most popular international footballers. Roster spots opened up after some of the events bigger-name expected participants withdrew -- leaving a void filled after Northwestern coach Tim Lenahan connected with former Richard Stockton college and Real Madrid player Santiago Solari, one of the game’s international members.
Empty spots on a soccer roster (or any roster, really) are never a positive development no matter how competitive or important the contest is, and Lenahan and Solari worked to solve that problem by inviting some former Wildcats to partake in the proceedings. Defender Mark Blades, forwards Gerardo Alvarez and forward Matt Eliason, midfielder Dave Roth and goalkeeper Tommy Tombridge were selected for participation according to the official NUSports release; other players were also added, per Lenahan’s Twitter account.
Long story short, Eliason took a flighted ball from Thierry Henry off his chest in the 28th minute with the score knotted 2-2, momentarily lost his presence of mind, completely disregarded the fact he was sharing a pitch with the most famous soccer player on planet Earth, and ripped a spectacular bicycle kick goal past Tombridge.
Yeah. That happened. International soccer stars, former and present, were supposed to be the prime attraction. Well, one of Northwestern's own just went out and stole the spotlight for himself. "Roster replacement" sounds like a dumb joke now. Eliason is the Wildcats’ all-time leading goal scorer and received All-Big Ten honors three times during his NU career.
Update: NUSports captured a screenshot featuring an official list of Northwestern players competing in the game.