Nico Solabarrieta: Leading the Danes Family
If you search University at Albany men’s soccer forward Nico Solabarrieta on Google, it won’t be long until you see the comparisons between Solabarrieta, the Santiago, Chile native, and global superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.
It’s no mystery where the comparisons come from – Solabarrieta, just like his Portugal idol growing up, wears No. 7. He has the same fade haircut as Ronaldo and like Juventus’ biggest star, he scores both points and goals. A lot.
In a 3-2 overtime win vs. Harvard August 31, Solabarrieta set up teammate Carlos Clark on a give-and-go for the game-winning goal in the 100th minute – the 16th assist of his career. That made him the all-time program assist leader.
What went through his mind? “We won,” the 6-foot-1 senior said with a smile. “That’s all.”
Two weeks later, with a 60th-minute goal to erase a 1-0 deficit at Quinnipiac, he moved into sole possession of second place in program history in career points (51) behind former teammate Afonso Pinheiro (91), breaking a tie with Jarvin Skeet (1999-2001).
He also ranks third on the all-time program scoring list with 19 goals at the Division I level.
So what are Solabarrieta’s thoughts on the lofty comparison to Ronaldo? “I don’t think it’s accurate at all,” he said with a chuckle. “He’s much, much better than I am.”
“It’s obvious he’s a player I always liked, one of the reasons I started loving this sport. Just how good he is and the hard work he gives to the game,” Solabarrieta said.
Watching the 2006 World Cup, Solabarrieta saw the Portuguese national team compete on TV. He saw a then 21-year-old Ronaldo, wearing No. 17, dribbling by defenders and making them look “like fools.” He began to follow Ronaldo and his career.
He was hooked. “There are many things [about him] that every player should imitate. The way he works and his game style especially,” Solabarrieta said.
Clark, who Solabarrieta describes as his best friend, raves about his teammate’s style: his fancy foot skills, his ability to take defenders straight on, his kind heart. Clark says he’s a great person both on and off the field.
“He’s got a long way to go [on the Ronaldo comparison] but he’s got the look to start — I guess,” fellow senior Clark says with a smile, eavesdropping.
“I love this kid,” Solabarrieta said. “We were roommates freshman year and sophomore year.” He pauses and then adds, “Unfortunately, now we spread apart. Carlos decided not to live with me on Empire so I miss the kid. We’re always together, though.”
The senior forward also isn’t afraid to push his teammates, make them the best player possible. He keeps the intensity high and even calls someone out on the field when it’s necessary — the sign of a proven leader.
Clearly, it’s worked. Solabarrieta along with Pinheiro, the program’s all-time program leader in points and goals who graduated in the spring, helped lead UAlbany to back to back America East conference championships in 2016 and ’17, the first titles in program history.
Like the young Ronaldo in the World Cup, the Great Danes star remembers coming in as a freshman and not being taken seriously, embracing that underdog mentality and playing with something to prove. Despite all their success, the goal for his 2018 senior season is simple: to go out on top.
“We know this year we’re not the favorites but that’s our motivation,” Solabarrieta said. “We’re back to back champions. We feel challenged that nobody believes us — that we can win this for the third time in a row.”
He is glad to bring up the diverse and international nature of the team he leads. With players from 10 different countries, they share camaraderie and chemistry in upstate New York. They are a “family.”
Despite many new faces with players like Pinheiro as well as defensive anchors Jeff Medina and Moosah Khanat all graduated, the Danes are confident despite starting 2-4.
“We want to leave this place better than we came,” Solabarrieta said. “Yes we won two in a row but we can’t settle with that. We want to win three. This is our senior year. We won it sophomore year and junior year. Why not get out of here with another title?”