The line of great American goalkeepers is well-documented. Kasey Keller, Tim Howard, and Brad Friedel all have done America proud with their jaw-dropping saves, acrobatic moves, and of course their massive success overseas. But before them was an even bigger name: Tony Meola.
How big was Meola? Well his name was on a video game in the 90s before soccer had made it big here in the States. He made headlines when he tried out for the New York Jets as a placekicker.
Off the field Meola shined just as brightly, starring in an off-broadway show and receiving awards for his work with charities and non-profits. Simply put, Meola is a soccer legend and one of the best, if not the best to ever don the Red, White, and Blue.
One of the top athletes to ever play in the national team system, Meola excelled at everything whether it was manning the posts in the World Cup or being a star for a fledgling MLS. He has remained active in the soccer community despite his retirement as a player after an illustrous pro career that spanned almost 20 years.
Meola recently partnered with Allstate, one of American soccer’s biggest supporters, to promote the sport of soccer to the masses leading up to this week’s historical U.S. vs. Mexico matchup. Meola tackled tough questions about the present state of the game and what looks to be a bright future for the sport.
While much of the world’s attention has turned to the Klinsmann Era, Meola was quick to show his support for the Bradley family after Bob’s surprise dismissal by the federation.
“For Bob just as a person, I was sad for him and his family,” Meola suggested. You can’t find nicer people; you can’t find anybody that is gonna work harder.”
This human element has been lost by many of us in the soccer business and it was quite appropriate for Tony to point this out.
“Winning the Gold Cup I think would have saved Bob. Bob’s been to finals, been to the quarterfinals of the World Cup, been to the quarterfinals of the Confederations Cup, he’s won the Gold Cup,” Meola commented. “So the record really is not that bad in tournament play.”
While he showed his support for Bob Bradley, Meola was quick to point out the effect it might have for the younger Bradley, Michael, who is a star midfielder in the national team system. “I am sure this had to hit him harder than anybody.” Michael’s progression and continued development is just one of many things things that need to happen for U.S. soccer to win on a global stage.
Meola looks to Juan Agudelo to lead the next generation of American players, but understand the young NYRB star is just one piece of the puzzle. “I think we need to develop some young defenders. That has been the Achilles heel for the U.S. team of late. We need the next Eddie Pope. We need the next Tony Sanneh, the next Frankie Hejduk. There was always a great one coming next. We need to find out who the next great one is.”
Meola even shared his thoughts on improving youth soccer. “I like the more training and less games,” Meola declared. “We are so game happy here. Everybody’s concerned about winning at the youth level. I don’t think it is the most important thing. I don’t put the emphasis on winning. It’s on developing players, letting them be creative, allowing them to learn the game on their game. I still think we overcoach too much, we’re too involved in the game.”
It was certainly a pleasure to speak with Tony Meola. It is safe to say there won’t be another one like him for a long, long time.
Listen to our entire interivew with Tony Meola here.
Download the interview as an mp3 here.