Lionel Messi’s public-relations disaster made for a dream day for Lombard native Matt Eliason.
The former Glenbard East soccer star and former Northwestern University walk-on scored 2 goals, including one that made even the few world-class players who didn’t back out of Saturday night’s Messi and Friends charity exhibition game at half-filled Soldier Field congratulate him.
Messi’s team defeated the World Stars 9-6, with Messi scoring 4 goals before leaving the field in the 69th minute and walking to the locker room, turning his back on the poorly promoted and poorly organized game set up to benefit his charitable foundation.
In the 28th minute Eliason chest trapped a pass from Thierry Henry, popping it into the air, then scoring with a spectacular bicycle kick.
“He stole the show,” said former Fire and U.S. defender Carlos Bocanegra. “ … This will probably be SportsCenter Top 10. I think that was probably the highlight of his life and a great goal regardless.”
“Once the ball was in the air, I thought might as well go for it in front of all these fans,” said Eliason, the leading scorer in Northwestern history. “It’s not every day you get to play with Messi.”
Eliason, who didn’t get to speak with Messi, last played for Northwestern in 2010. He attended the Major League Soccer combine before the 2011 SuperDraft but was not picked. Now he works in Chicago for GE Capital.
“Amazing, surreal,” Eliason said of his experience Saturday. “I watch him in the Champions League all the time growing up, and it’s just amazing to be on the same field with him.”
Eliason admitted he still has MLS dreams.
“I try to stay in shape, try and keep playing. I mean anything’s possible. I just wanted to take advantage of the opportunity today,” he said.
Eliason was among nine former Northwestern players and one future Northwestern player invited to play the game after most of the world stars originally slated to play backed out.
Northwestern coach Tim Lenahan had a contact in Messi team player Santiago Solari, and the former and future Wildcats were enlisted.
“I know some of the players backed out that some of the fans wanted to see, but what a terrific day for us here,” said Lenahan, who served as an assistant coach. “ … This is beyond what even I could visualize.”
Messi might want to forget about the day, but the Northwestern guys never will.
“I’m just so proud of the group,” Lenahan said. “Tommy (Tombridge) the goalie, he’s leaving to go into the Air Force. It’s going to be the last game he’ll ever play. He’s going to be a pilot, so he just signed up for 10 years and he’s just getting ready to go.”
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