While Santiago Solari will be on the opposing team when Club América visits Subaru Park tonight for the second leg semifinal of the Concacaf Champions League, he’ll have some friends from another lifetime in the stands.
The Club América head coach spent a semester at Stockton University in the fall of 1994 and it left enough of a lasting impression on him that he took time out of his preparations for tonight’s match to visit the campus 70 miles from Subaru Park.
“Being here opened my mind to living in a different country with different points of view,” Solari was quoted saying in a press release about his visit. “It was a perfect moment for me.”
Solari first came to the Galloway Township campus in the summer of 1994 when the Saudi Arabia national team — coached by his uncle Jorge Solari and father Eugenio Solari — was training there ahead of the World Cup. A promising 17-year-old back home in Argentina, Solari was part of the practice squad and ended up extending his stay through the fall before embarking on a successful pro career in Argentina and Spain.
“He’s a smart guy, he had a vision for himself that was beyond just I’m going to play soccer here and be great at it; I think he already knew that but he was looking for any advantage he could find and one of those was he couldn’t speak English very well,” his Stockton coach Tim Lenahan said in a previous interview. “I don’t know that his soccer grew during that three months that he was here, but he certainly grew.”
Lenahan went on to coach at Lafayette and two decades at Northwestern before retiring this spring but the two kept in touch.
“His experience at Stockton has always been special to him,” Lenahan said.
Lenahan, the self-describe IT guy from New Jersey has an impressive coaching tree that includes current Red Bull Leipzig head coach Jesse Marsch, a former volunteer assistant, and current Villanova head coach Tom Carlin among many others. Though never officially on his staff, Lenahan also saw quite a bit of Jim Curtin in his days playing for the Chicago Fire.
In fact, when Curtin went over to shake Solari’s hand ahead of the first leg of the CCL semifinal in Mexico City, Curtin said Solari beat him to the introduction.
“He was the first to speak and he said Tim Lenahan says you’re a great guy, and that you guys spent a lot of time together in Chicago, which was true, so it caught me off guard to be honest,” Curtin said of the exchange in a recent news conference. “Solari couldn’t have been a more humble, quiet, just nice soft spoken guy.”
That humility was on display on Tuesday with his visit to campus, where he visited with the current men’s soccer team and marveled at how much the campus has changed.
“It makes me happy to be here,” Solari was quoted saying. “It’s good to take some time off from the pressure.”