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How Real Madrid’s manager started life in NCAA Soccer

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Santiago Solari will be sitting in the manager’s chair for Real Madrid following the firing of Julen Lopetegui, but he was an All-Region NCAA Division III player before he was a Champions League winner with 11 caps for Argentina.

We’re sorry, we better clarify: Solari was a second team All-Region player at Richard Stockton College in Pomona, New Jersey, behind his teammate Pete Schneiders.

[ MORE: Solari prepares Real ]

The story, of course, is much deeper than this, and there are few better suited to share it than former Stockton coach and current Northwestern boss Tim Lenahan, who has moved from coach to lifelong friend of Solari.

Despite the shared first name with the character from “Goal!”, Santiago Solari was a major talent before his parents bonded with an American coach and sent their son to American college for a year.

Solari’s uncle, Jorge, was the manager of the Saudi Arabia national team for the 1994 World Cup, and his father was on the staff. Before the side went on to the Round of 16 in the most memorable tournament in Green Falcons history, they prepared for the tournament in New Jersey.

Santiago had a special role in the preparation for the tournament, part of a U-19 team which trained against the first team. It wasn’t difficult for Lenahan to spot his talent, but there wasn’t really any recruiting involved. This was a World Cup, and a job.

“I was a part-time coach and a full-time IT guy,” Lenahan told ProSoccerTalk on Tuesday as his Wildcats prepare for a Big Ten tournament match against Ohio State on Nov. 3. “I took a leave from my job to work at the camp.”

The player and his parents grew close with Lenahan, and the Saudi Arabian staff asked Lenahan to accompany them on their tournament run. The Green Falcons nearly knocked off the Netherlands before beating Belgium and Morocco and losing to Sweden in the Round of 16.

“I got to know his mom and dad really well,” Lenahan said. “His mother mentioned sending him to school at Stockton and told me, “This is my life and blood,” in Spanish before she left. Sure enough a couple of weeks later I get a letter from his dad.”

(Solari, Courtesy: @Tim_Lenahan)

His bio in the Stockton College history book reads, As a freshman, Solari tallied eight goals and 15 assists for 31 points. He was named NJAC Rookie of the Year, NJAC All-Conference First Team and NSCAA All-Region Second Team. With Solari in the lineup, Stockton posted a 15-5 record and earned an NCAA Tournament berth.

Solari’s 15 assists were the second-best single season in Stockton history, behind teammate Schneiders. Solari was 17 years old, and Lenahan says he opened up the field for his teammates.

Pretty solid list of accomplishments, before you take into account the whole Champions League thing. Solari went 90 minutes for Real in the club’s 2002 UCL triumph over Bayer Leverkusen, giving him a European crown to go with two La Liga titles, and he’d thrice win Serie A with Inter Milan.

Through that time and into the present, Solari has stayed in touch with his friend Tim. Before the proliferation of broadcasts over the ocean, Lenahan would get phone calls and videos from Solari to hear about the latest match. Sometimes he’d come home to an amusing answering machine message.

Lenahan saw Solari score for Atletico Madrid against Real, then plenty more when Solari left relegated Atleti for its crosstown rivals.

In fact, Lenahan has Solari jerseys from both sides of the rivalry in his office.

“I’d love telling this story for 20 years, and breaking out the picture of us holding the Champions League trophy,” Lenahan said.

To be fair, who wouldn’t?

Lenahan says he trades messages with Solari about once a week, and that he offered congratulations for this new, big coaching gig earlier this week. He often jokes that Solari wouldn’t have made his first team debut for River Plate at 19 if it wasn’t for him.

“It would’ve happened at 18,” Lenahan said. “I don’t think he got better here but he definitely grew here. I read somewhere that he said, ‘It opened up my head’.”

It’s an understatement to say Lenahan has fared well since his days at Stockton, producing 11 NCAA Tournament teams at the Division I level between Lafayette (two) and Northwestern (nine).

And Solari isn’t Lenahan’s only connection to El Clasico stars (Solari scored the lone Real goal in a 2004 loss to Barca)A chance invitation he extended to a Northwestern player led to a documentary called, “Messi and Me.”

Coronavirus: Italy may lift ban on sporting events by Monday

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MILAN (AP) The Italian government could lift its ban on sporting events by Monday in areas affected by the coronavirus if the number of cases stabilizes.

The outbreak forced a number of sporting events to be called off throughout the country this past weekend, including four Serie A matches in the north of Italy.

This week, the ban on sporting events was extended from Lombardy, Veneto and Piedmont – the areas hardest hit by the outbreak – to also include the regions of Friuli Venezia Giulia, Emilia Romagna and Liguria, until March 1.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

“If, as I hope, the statistics don’t give us different signs then maybe already by Monday these measures won’t be continued,” Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora said. “But it’s only Tuesday today and we have to wait and see what happens over the next few days. The health of the Italian citizens is the most important thing.”

Italy reported a 45% increase in the number of coronavirus cases Tuesday, from 222 to 300. Ten people have died, all of them elderly or suffering from other ailments.

“Obviously, I can’t say I’m not worried because I don’t want anyone to think we’re underestimating this emergency,” Premier Giuseppe Conte said before meeting with visiting World Health Organization representatives. “But we trust that with the measures we have implemented, there will be a containing effect in the coming days.”

Italy has closed schools, museums and theaters in the two regions where clusters have formed and troops are enforcing quarantines around 10 towns in Lombardy and the epicenter of the Veneto cluster, Vo’Euganeo.

Serie A matches this weekend are set to be played behind closed doors, including Juventus’ key match against Inter Milan. That game is not only potentially crucial to the title race but also sees the return of former Juventus coach Antonio Conte.

Inter’s Europa League match at home to Ludogorets on Thursday will also take place without any fans allowed in.

Serie C canceled all games in two leagues which have teams in the north. Volleyball and rugby games were also suspended nationwide through next weekend.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation suspended all of its events throughout the country for an entire week, although it said that “for now” next weekend’s World Cup ski races in La Thuile in the Valle d’Aosta region were still set to go ahead. Those races are operated by the International Ski Federation, which has already canceled races this season in China that were slated to test the course for the 2022 Beijing Games.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

El Tri winger Jurgen Damm headed for MLS this summer

Jurgen Damm
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This season’s Liga MX invasion of MLS continues with Jurgen Damm announcing that he’ll leave UANL Tigres this summer after five years with the club.

TUDN has the destination as Atlanta, though previous reports have linked Damm to the LA Galaxy is the spot.

And MLSSoccer.com scribe Tom Bogert says the Houston Dynamo have his “discovery rights” (which remains the worst concept in the entire league).

Reports emerged over the past 48 hours that the El Tri man was headed for an MLS club.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The 12-times capped winger has one goal for Mexico, but has not been capped since Oct. 2018. He has spent his entire career in Liga MX.

Damm spent the early part of his career with Tecos and Pachuca, but has been with UANL Tigres since 2015.

He won four league titles with UANL, as well as the 2018 Campeones Cup.

Ex-Arsenal man Gnabry: “London’s still red” after Bayern beats Chelsea

Serge Gnabry
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Ex-Arsenal man Serge Gnabry still has love for the club.

Gnabry tweeted that “London is still red” after he scored twice for Bayern Munich in a 3-0 beating of Chelsea on Tuesday in the first leg of a UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

This after scoring four times against Spurs in a previous Champions League group stage match and Tweeting that “North London is Red.”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

So what’s with the London form?

“I’ve got a lot of friends here,” Gnabry said after the game. “A lot of them were in the stands tonight, and it seems they give me a lot of good power.”

Gnabry only scored once during his time in England with Arsenal and West Brom but is a bona fide star in the Bundesliga.

With a three-goal advantage over Chelsea heading to Munich for a second leg, however, he’s not got his head in the clouds.

“Three goals ahead gives us a little bit of confidence, but we need to be prepared for the second leg. We can’t take it not seriously enough. … We’ve seen it last year with Liverpool beating Barcelona, so we have to be careful. We have to go into the second leg with all of our focus.”

Gnabry now has 51 goals and 29 assists in four seasons since returning to Germany from Arsenal. Not terrible production for a player the Gunners offloaded to Werder Bremen for under $6 million in 2016.

What color will London be when Chelsea buys him next year? We kid, we kid…

Champions League preview: Real Madrid renews rivalry with Pep; Lyon hosts Juve

UEFA Champions League preview
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The final two ties of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 begin Wednesday when Manchester City and Juventus head to Spain and France.

The focus for many will be on the former, as City continues to weather UEFA drama while its manager prepares for his fiercest foe as a player and manager.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Pep Guardiola has managed against Real Madrid 17 times and boasts a 9-4-4 record between Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

The Catalan wizard has lost his last three versus Real, two with Bayern and once in his final El Clasico as Barca boss.

Even as Guardiola stresses preparation and plan, he knows there will be bounces and that both teams will have to cope with them.

“We have to be strong, have quality and need to have luck,” he said, via The Manchester Evening News. “At this stage, it’s important but we cannot control that. We can control what we can control and we will see. This competition, last season, against Liverpool, there are decisions. You have to overcome. You need incredible concentration in our game and game plan plus try to be a little lucky.”

Real Madrid living legend Sergio Ramos has earned the ire of Guardiola on plenty of occasions, one of the few things Liverpool and City fans have in common.

Ramos wouldn’t get drawn into rivalry talk, sying the stage somewhat negates the opponent.

“I have a lot of respect for him,” Ramos said via the club’s web site. “I think he’s a fantastic coach, with loads of experience, and his numbers speak for themselves. We’re motivated by the Champions League, regardless of the players or coaches who may have been rivals in the past. We’re up for the Champions League and our next task is to beat City. From a personal point of view, I’m just focused on making the next round.”

[ MORE: Key battles for Real-Man City ]

Wednesday’s other match sees a club long linked with Guardiola, as Juventus will play the role of heavy favorites against Lyon.

Maurizio Sarri‘s side is to bidding to win what’s eluded all Juve bosses since Marcello Lippi beat Ajax in 1996. If they succeed, it will be by going down a different path than it’s traveled in recent years.

Here’s Leonardo Bonucci, via Football-Italia:

“What the coach asks of us now is basically the opposite of what the previous coach did,” Bonucci mused. “It was usually individual against individual, now it’s more about organized team movements. Obviously, you need to train consistently to get that down and playing every three days makes it difficult. But we started this journey well aware of the positives it could bring and the difficulties of getting there.”

Lyon has been maddeningly inconsistent this season, sitting seventh in the Ligue 1 table, but has the tools to surprise if Juve doesn’t bring its best. That starts in France on Wednesday.