BigShot Q&A: Former USMNT goalkeeper – Tony Meola

Tony Meola, former goalkeeper for Red Bull New York and the USMNT, discusses his history with the Kansas City Wizards and tonight's MLS All-Star Game
by Herb Scribner   |   Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Jeff McIntyre - President of Bellingham United (PCSL)

Tony Meola is a former goalkeeper for the United States Men’s National Team. He’s competed in the 1990 and 1994 World Cups. Meola spent many years playing in England before returning to the USA to finish his career with the New York MetroStars, Kansas City Wizards and Red Bull New York. He’s currently in Kansas City working with Allstate to help promote the MLS All-Star Game.

You’re in town for the All-Star Game tomorrow at Sporting Park. What do you find most exciting about the All-Star Game? Why is it a necessary competition for MLS?

TM: An All-Star Game is something we’re all familiar with in other sports in the United States. The one thing that we sort of bring to the table in our sport more so than the other sports is that we have this international flavor to the game. It’s not only East vs. West or something like that.

It seems to be a pretty good success. As far as the fans are concerned, they get to see teams here that maybe they normally wouldn’t get to see live. … I think MLS does a great job, I think the format works. This gives us a little different twist than everybody else.

What kinds of things are you currently working on outside of professional soccer?

TM: I’m here to work through the week with MLS and Allstate. We’re going to a local pub here … to meet and great with some kids, and Allstate puts on a clinic. … More often than not, the kids we’re going to visit wouldn’t generally have the chance to go to one of these games. It’s pretty cool to see their reaction.

You spent some of your best seasons in Kansas City. What are your thoughts on how far SKC has progressed in MLS?

TM: They have done an outstanding job. I met with some old neighbors, they had a little cook out. I saw some friends that when I was here, they weren’t soccer fans. They came to the game because their kids wanted to hang out with my kids at the game. They are soccer fans, now. They’re going to the All-Star Game, they’re going to the New York game on Saturday night. They can’t wait to go to games.

I think that’s what this city has kind of done – it has made Sporting KC games the place to be. Good job by them for sure. They’ve become a model for teams that this team was rebranded a couple years ago. Everybody thought they were nuts, and now it’s become a mecca in our league.

How would you like to see MLS develop in the future?

TM: Just take Sporting Kansas City. This was not a place where Peter Vermes or coaches before him would go to foreign players and say, ‘Hey, you should come to play for us.’ This wasn’t 1st on everybody’s list. It wasn’t necessarily a very attractive place for foreigners just because they didn’t know the city. Having said that, over the years, you’re bringing players to KC, but they think they’re in Europe.

Surely, we’d like to see stadiums filled up tomorrow, it just doesn’t happen that way. The Northwest has done a great job of building success up there. I think we’re doing a pretty good job of growing at a pace that it’s still manageable.

Is MLS and US Soccer doing a good enough job developing youth players? How can it be improved in the future?

TM: I think the one thing you can’t argue at the moment is we’re developing more and more younger players with what MLS has done and the emergence of NASL. Again, it really shows that we’re at a point where kids want to grow the game and want to play the game.

Now there’s opportunity. See what’s going on in the NASL. You used to have a guy who would develop over 2 or 3 years of playing, if he didn’t make an MLS roster, he’d have nowhere to go. Now, with the teams like the NASL and the league growing … we’re seeing players go through the NASL or teams in MLS when they would normally take 2 or 3 years. I think it’s vitally important. You don’t want to miss players because they didn’t have a place to play in year one.

You played for the MetroStars for a lot of your MLS career. What was it like playing in New Jersey, your home?

TM: It was a dream come true. It was a dream to come back there at the end of your career. It was fun, there’s no question. I didn’t know anything about Kansas City when I got here. Knowing what I know now, outside of what they’re doing with the stadium … Kansas City and New York would be the places I’d want to play.

What do you make of NYC FC? Is this a step forward for MLS becoming more marketable and a bigger league with more world exposure?

TM: My initial thought was, ‘Wow, Man City is coming in!’ I knew a couple of weeks before that that was going to be the case. But when the announcement came that the New York Yankees were going to be involved, I thought this kind of puts them over the top for having things in place on the field with the resources Man City brings and from an infrastructure stand point.

I’m thinking this becomes obvious right away that they’re trying to do things right. They want to build it a certain way, they want to grow it a certain way. I’m hoping that they develop one of those close rivalries with Red Bull New York that we can watch for years.

How do you feel about the New York Cosmos? How much have you followed their resurgence?

TM: Yeah, absolutely. It’s kind of weird to hear that they had inspirations to be in Major League Soccer and it didn’t happen. You talk about building a $400 million stadium, you’re not really talking about the NASL. They seem to be happy to go in their own direction. I think that’s fine, that’s the plan.

From a player development standpoint, I think it gives kids an opportunity to play. It gives them an opportunity if they didn’t have a chance in Major League Soccer to find a home. I almost feel like … it’s just a race to see who gets the stadium done first.

With the Red Bulls, the Cosmos and NYCFC all slated to compete in the New York area, what team do you consider to be the top team? Would all 3 work in MLS?

TM: Really the only team there is Red Bull New York. They are top dogs in the city or in that area. They’re a bunch of New Jersey people I know … that would like to see it called a New Jersey team rather than a New York team. There’s no mention of New Jersey. Hopefully one day that will change. For now, they are the only show in town. But that’ll change very soon.

Would you prefer 1 MLS team in New York, 3 teams representing New York, or maybe a couple representing the different boroughs and New Jersey? What do you feel is the ideal approach for NYC teams?

TM: I’d like to see the Cosmos, Red Bull and NYC FC all play in the areas that they’re in, with full stadiums, and we have a great rivalry between them, beating up on each other year after year. I’m not sure that’s going to happen, but that’d be awesome if they were kicking the crap out of each other year after year. It would give people something to talk about. That would be the ultimate dream

How much have you been following the USA Men’s recent CONCACAF Gold Cup run? How does this team compare to the teams of the early 1990s?

TM: I think they’ve done an outstanding job. Jurgen Klinsmann got battered a couple of months ago, there were some doubters. He proved he could get the spirit right and play more attractive soccer. The competitors weren’t pretty, it won’t be what they see in World Cup qualifying, but they got the job done. Jurgen Klinsmann deserves credit, the players deserve credit.

Compared to the 90s, I think our team in 1990 could have been in this particular Gold Cup and done very well. But I think it’s unfair to look at those 2 teams. You look at 2002, 1998 and some players doing very well and that’s what we’re seeing here.

What players on the earlier squads would fit in well today? If you could pick 3 players to bring to today, who would you bring? 

TM: John Harkes, Tab Ramos, Peter Vermes – I’m talking about guys in their prime who could play with the national team. Kasey Keller was on that team, Eric Wynalda was on that team. Those were some guys who could play and there were some guys who could play in any era.

You played for the USA during the 1994 World Cup, which the United States hosted. Describe the experience of playing in the World Cup on your home turf.

TM: I was pretty blessed that if I could pick 2 places to play in the World Cup, the United States and Italy because of my background, would also be the 2 places I got the opportunity to do that. It’s an experience like no other. It’s obviously the pinnacle of a soccer player’s career to play in a World Cup. Period. It was really, really cool. I’ll never forget it.

I can still almost sense walking onto the field right now, still so many years later on, getting that feeling of walking onto the field for the first time.

When do you think the USA will host another World Cup? Should they have been picked for 2022?

TM: Maybe, maybe in 2022 they might with the way things are going right now. I think there’s going to be a lot of factors in determining what’s going to happen. I’m not convinced yet speaking to the owners of teams that a winter World Cup is going to fly. There have been a lot of doubters. I think Sepp Blatter has a lot of work to do, convincing people that the World Cup should stay in Qatar.

Well, first, he’s got a bigger job and that’s to determine if what happened yesterday and the death of [Christian Benitez] yesterday, had anything to do with the heat. I think it’s almost a no-brainer that the safety of the players has to be paramount and the second you lose that, you’re in trouble. It looks like it’ll be a topic of discussion for quite some time now.

You spent some of your playing career abroad, playing in England. Do you think it’s good for Americans to travel overseas or to stay stateside and develop the game in the USA?

TM: I’ve said all along you have to do what’s best for you. … For me it was best, I went there, had so many problems with work visas and all that stuff, and I look back now and I’m still thinking I made the right choice in coming back here. But that was the right thing for me to do.

You have to do whatever’s right for you, whatever’s right for your career. I’ve had young kids ask me about it, and I said when you get to that point, you’ll know what you have to do.

Everybody’s trying to become the best player in the world, but I do think there’s different ways. I think what we’ve done here in Major League Soccer is different than what we would have done before.

Like Graham Zusi recently deciding to stay in the MLS – this is a guy being highly-touted now by a lot of teams and deciding to stay in Kansas City. If that’s the best decision for Graham Zusi, or if coming back and just going on loan for a couple of weeks is the best decision for Landon Donovan, than that’s what they should do.

There was an ESPN article that came out recently asking the question if Americans are undervalued. What are your thoughts on how the world perceives American players?

TM: The Clint Dempseys and the Landon Donovans … are dispelling any rumors that Americans can’t play. I think it is important that guys like them, when they do go over, are successful. They play well enough to convince fans that they belong there.

I think it’s known now that this is … not a vacation league, Major League Soccer. If you want to go out every game and give 100%, this isn’t a retirement community anymore for guys that might have thought that in the past.

And that’s the credit to the players. The players on the field made it that way, they created that environment.

After Tim Howard retires from the US National Team who do you see as the next American goalkeeper? Is the USA less deep from the days it had you, Keller and Friedel competing for the #1 jersey?

TM: We don’t know who the future is. I don’t think it’s been established. … We’re solid in that position. I don’t think any of us could see the future. It’s kind of up in the air. We’re figuring it out as we go along here. Tim’s occupied a lot of minutes. Eventually someone’s going to have to get some minutes and prove that they belong and that they’re successful.

Sporting KC of today meets the Kansas City Wizards of 2000. Who wins?

TM: I like to think Sporting KC can compete with us. We’re considered one of the best teams to ever play. We’re as good as some of the guys who are there now. I think both groups were very good as far as what they executed on the field.

It’d be a good game for sure. I don’t know if they can recreate it on a video game or something, but I’d like to see the outcome of that one.

Herb SCRIBNER

Nationality:
USA
College:
UMass Amherst
Club Domestic:
NE Revolution
Club Foreign:
Bayern Munich
SN managing editor, award-winning journalist and recent college grad, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's been published by the Boston Globe and has experience with film production and novel writing.
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