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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.”

Haiti stuns Costa Rica to claim Group B at Gold Cup

AP Photo/Julio Cortez
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Poetic justice, put it in a Song.

Haiti’s Djimy Alexis made up for his early own goal by scoring a deserved winner as Haiti won Group B of the Gold Cup with an upset of Costa Rica on Monday.

[ ROUNDUPS: AFCON | Copa America ]

Los Ticos got everything they could handle from the upstart Gombey Warriors, who are now 3-0 on the tournament, and the World Cup mainstays tossed aside their early lead to meet Mexico in the quarterfinals.

Haiti will challenge Canada in the quarters, guaranteeing the semifinals an intriguing participant.

An early own goal had Costa Rica in control, but Duckens Nason’ 16th international goal was a part of a hard charge from the Haitians in the second half.

The other match saw Bermuda earn a 2-0 win over Nicaragua via goals from Lejuan Simmons and QPR’s Nakhi Wells. That gives the Gombey Warriors a 1-2 record while dropping Nicaragua to 0-3.

Bermuda was ranked 174th by FIFA to Nicaragua’s 129, but that will certainly change next month.

AFCON wrap: Diaby’s sensational rip highlights trio of matches

(Photo by Ulrik Pedersen/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
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The Africa Cup of Nations said hello to six more competitors on Monday, with a thrilling goal amongst the eight tallied across the competitions in Egypt.

[ MORE: Copa America roundup ]


Mali 4-1 Mauritania

Two different men named Adama Traore — neither of them the Wolves winger — joined Moussa Marega on the score sheet but it’s difficult to describe the class and small margins that defined the tournament’s goal of the day.

Sporting Lisbon’s Abdoulay Diaby somehow got this shot off through two defenders and into the upper reaches of the goal to open the scoring in the three-goal win for Mali, which is having some summer when you take into account the U-20 World Cup.

Ivory Coast 1-0 South Africa

There were only 13 total attempts in the game, and Aston Villa’s Jonathan Kodija scored the lone goal of a tournament opening win for Les Elephants.

Tunisia 1-1 Angola

A draw was probably fair, as Youssef Msakni’s first half penalty was met by Djalma Campos’ late goal to split the spoils in Group E.

Copa America roundup: Uruguay tops Chile; Full knockout bracket

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Ecuador and Japan drew to allow Paraguay to sew up the final knockout round spot, sending Miguel Almiron and Co. into a match-up with Brazil.

[ MORE: Johannsson to MLS? ]

And Uruguay rode Edinson Cavani’s goal into the other side of the bracket, moving ahead of Chile in a tight match.

Ecuador 1-1 Japan

There was a lot to like in a match with 30-plus shots and the ultimate prize of a match-up with Brazil on Thursday in Porto Alegre.

Shoya Nakajima put the Asian side ahead a quarter-hour into the match, but Angel Mena provided an equalizer before halftime to put both sides in danger of failure to reach the knockout rounds.

Chile 0-1 Uruguay

Cavani scored for the second time this tournament as Uruguay claimed first place in Group A and a knockout round meeting with Peru.

Cavani’s deftly flicked header of a Jonathan Rodriguez pass pushed Uruguay above Chile, which had won both of its group matches and now meets Colombia on Friday.

Knockout round schedule

June 27
Brazil v. Paraguay

June 28
Venezuela v. Argentina
Colombia v. Chile

June 29
Uruguay v. Peru

July 2
Brazil/Paraguay v. Venezuela/Argentina
Colombia/Chile v. Uruguay/Peru

July 6
Third place playoff

July 7
Final

Norwich City adds Switzerland international Drmic on free transfer

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Norwich City has added a new star striker to a unit which produced 93 goals in the Championship last season.

Josip Drmic will join Swiss national teammate Timm Klose with the Canaries for the next three seasons, hoping to bring his Bundesliga and international experience to a Premier League safety campaign.

[ MORE: Johannsson to MLS? ]

Drmic turns 27 next month, and scored two goals in five appearances for Borussia Monchengladbach last season. He has 31 goals and seven assists in 107 Bundesliga appearances between Gladbach, Hamburger SV, Bayer Leverkusen, and Nurnberg.

Coach Daniel Farke got 30 goals from target forward Teemu Pukki, who plays a similar role to Drmic and has plenty of top flight experience with Celtic and Schalke amongst others.

Drmic can also operate on the wing, usually left over right, and has featured in both the 2014 and 2018 World Cup. From Canaries.co.uk:

“I’m going to do everything and give 100% on the pitch. I will be ready to give everything for the club. My job is scoring but I also want to help my team and help us be successful.

“When I first came to Norwich, the first thing I noticed was how kind everybody was. It’s given me a lot of positive energy and I’m excited to see what happens.”

Between Pukki and Drmic, Norwich can have faith that its well-prepared to have an answer up top.