Cardenas’ moment with Messi garnering worldwide attention

Luis Gonzalez, Jean Xuncax, Lalo Ferrusca, Pat Ferrusca and David Cardenas tailgate before Friday's Copa America game at Soldier Field in Chicago between Argentina and Panama.

What David Cardenas called “the biggest moment of my life” is being shared all across the globe thanks to social media.

The 2016 Perry graduate and All-State soccer player charged onto the playing surface — “invading the pitch” is the proper parlance — at Soldier Field Friday to greet his hero, Argentina’s Lionel “Leo” Messi.

Messi is not your average international player. The winner of the FIFA Ballon d’OR — given to the world’s best player — in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2015, Messi is one of a handful of personalities known worldwide by one name.

“He has always been my favorite player,” Cardenas told early Saturday. “I think he is the greatest player in the world and the greatest of all time. There was no way I could pass up the chance to meet him even if I did get in trouble.”

Messi and the Argentine National Team were in Chicago to play Panama in a Copa America match. He came off the bench to score three goals in 18 minutes to lead Argentina to a 5-0 victory.

“It was incredible just to see him play,” Cardenas said. “To see him score was even more incredible, and to see him get a hat trick and do it in 18 minutes was beyond any dream I had. I told the guys going over (to Chicago) that I thought we would see Leo score and said ‘How crazy would it be if he got a hat trick?’ and we all just laughed about it.”

The ‘we’ in question are Jean Xuncax, Luis Gonzalez and Pat and Lalo Ferrusca. The quartet already had tickets for the game when Cardenas discovered he could buy one and join them. Although his individual seat was not directly next to his friends, it was in the same section of the stadium and the quintet all managed to sit together anyway.

Cardenas admitted he was guilty of premeditation, as he had repeatedly stated his intention to run up to Messi if the opportunity allowed. He described being “nervous” about the 8-10 foot leap onto the field but said once he had landed “all I could think of was ‘there is Leo!’ and getting to him as fast as I could.”

Wearing a copy of Messi’s FC Barcelona kit (soccer for ‘jersey’) Cardenas invaded the pitch just as the final whistle was about to blow.

He approached Messi and “I told him how great I thought he was” but was then immediately tackled by security.

“Leo speaks a kind of Spanish so I asked him to help me,” Cardenas said.

Fellow Argentine striker Sergio “Kun” Aguero, who plays for Manchester City, speaks some English and, Cardenas said, asked the security guys to “pick me up but be careful with me” as Aguero retrieved Cardenas’ phone, which had been jarred out of his grasp.

Messi, in an act of total class, briefly embraced Cardenas and signed his kit before the pitch invader was pulled off the field.

“He told me I was brave to do that,” Cardenas said. “I knew I would get in trouble but hoped it would be worth it and it was. I mean, Messi hugged me, told me I was brave. This is something my grandchildren will hear about and they are going to tell their kids. Amazing.”

Univision was televising the match and captured the moment on video, which was later discussed by the announcing crew, focusing on Messi’s sportsmanship. 

Describing Messi as an international superstar is to do a disservice to his status in the world of futbol. A fan approaching him on the pitch instantly became international news, and clips of the moment, as well as still photographs, immediately exploded on Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube and other social media sites. Replays of the moment were shown repeatedly on sportscasts across the globe.

Cardenas said he gained more followers on social media in the first few hours after the incident than he could keep track of.

Classmate Kevin Lopez contacted Cardenas Saturday from the Mexico City International Airport to tell him the moment was being discussed by travelers there. Cardenas was interviewed by an Argentine newspaper early Saturday evening as well and should likely expect more international attention.

“That is not why I did it,” Cardenas insisted. “It was all about meeting Messi. That was all that I wanted to do, to meet him, tell him I thought he was the greatest of all time and maybe get lucky and get an autograph. I still can’t believe it all happened.”

Security hustled Cardenas to a holding area in Soldier Field, where — as each ticket clearly warns — he was arrested by Chicago police for trespassing. He was released from CPD custody some hours later and, rejoined by his four friends, returned to Perry with the story of a lifetime.

“I met Messi and he hugged me and spoke to me,” Cardenas said. “That made it worth it.”

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