CHICAGO – Glenbard East graduate Matt Eliason received a text from his college soccer coach asking him an impossible question.
“Do you want to play with Messi?”
Eliason asked for clarification. Tim Lenahan, Eliason’s coach at Northwestern, reiterated, but Eliason was still skeptical that he could play with Lionel Messi, arguably the best player in the world.
“I thought he was joking around,” Eliason said.
The offer was real and what unfolded could end up being a life-altering moment for the Lombard native, or at the very least the memory of a lifetime.
Some of the professional stars had dropped out of the Messi & Friends exhibition match Saturday at Soldier Field. In a last minute effort to field full teams, Lenahan was asked to contact former Northwestern players.
Eliason was among nine former Wildcats to live out a fantasy for a day. He highlighted the day by scoring a bicycle kick.
Video of the goal went viral. It has received more than 2 million views on YouTube and Eliason has been talked about and written about in seemingly every major media outlet ranging from ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” to The Wall Street Journal.
“It’s been pretty crazy,” Eliason said. “I never would have expected anything like that. I kept in shape and kept training in case anything came up.”
Since graduating as Northwestern’s all-time leading scorer in 2011, Eliason has been playing in multiple leagues to stay on his game and even ran a half marathon in San Diego to maintain his fitness. That training paid off when he scored the bicycle and French National Team player Florent Malouda and former Arsenal and Barcelona legend Thierry Henry, who assisted on the goal, were among the players to run over to celebrate with him.
“I kind of blacked out that little bit,” Eliason said of the celebration. “They were just saying great goal. Two of those guys, Malouda and Henry, are French so English is not their first language, but they were saying 'SportsCenter' Top 10.”
The goal was the No. 1 play on "SportsCenter" that night. He went to his apartment after the game and friends told him the news so he went to a local bar to watch it.
Eliason planned to attend the game before hearing he could play. One of his friends from Glenbard East, former Loyola soccer player Chris Mills, watched from the stands.
“It was pretty surreal, especially first arriving at the locker room and trying to be a teammate and not a fan,” Eliason said. “For the first couple minutes I was a little star struck and then it was just another soccer game.”
Eliason, who scored another goal in the second half, said he hit the crossbar on a bicycle attempt in college, but had never scored one in a game. After the game, he got to talk with former U.S. Men’s National Team captain Carlos Bocanegra.
Eliason currently works as a financial analyst for GE Capital in Chicago, but has held out hope of earning a professional soccer contract. He said he’s had some "cool opportunities" pop up since the goal.