Tony Meola has an impressive resume: he played 100 games for the USMNT between 1988-2006, he won two CONCACAF Championships with the USMNT (1991, 2002), and was named MLS MVP, Goalkeeper of the Year, and MLS Cup MVP when his Kansas City Wizards won the MLS Championship in 2000.
But what you may not know is that he was also roommates with Tim Howard during their time with the MetroStars.
“They thought it would be good for him,” Meola explained. “Since then we’ve become pretty good friends.” He described a time when “Timmy” was writing in something that looked like a journal. Meola asked what Howard was writing. “It’s my birthday,” Howard said, and explained that he was reflecting on past experiences, including the first time he saw the world-class goalkeeper play. “How old were you?” Meola asked. “Seven,” Howard replied. “Talk about making a guy feel old,” Meola laughed.
I asked how Howard has changed since those early days. “He’s grown into being more than a player - he’s a leader,” Meola answered. “Whether it’s fair or unfair to goalkeepers, his team is constantly depending on him to bail them out, but he’s embraced it. It doesn’t surprise me,” he continued. “He seemed destined to fulfill that role, to be that guy to have a chance to make the play. He’s never shied away from it.”
Meola retired just short of his 40th birthday, which could be about the same time we see Tim Howard retire, so he talked about the importance of understanding your body as you get older. “When you’re young, you don’t manage it - you push it everyday.” Meola believes that there is more technology and knowledge out there today that helps guys extend their careers. But when it comes down to it, you just “do your best every day.”
How soccer has changed since the 90s
Tony Meola has seen it all. He played under Bruce Arena in college at the University of Virginia, and then played in the American Professional Soccer League, the Major Indoor Soccer League, and the United Soccer League until Major League Soccer was created. MLS has changed a lot since it’s early days.
“Of course it’s grown in sponsorships, deals, and stadiums, but the talent pool overall has gotten better. The bigger the pool gets, the quicker guys can improve,” Meola explained. “It’s been a lot of work by a lot of really talented people, and like I’ve always said, the more you play with good players, the quicker you get better.” Even though MLS has come a long way, “there’s no one that doesn’t think there’s still room to grow.”
He sees soccer changing around the world, too, but not always in a good way. On the one hand, smaller, lesser-known countries are popping up and competing internationally, but on the other hand, many “leagues are so big and players make so much money that the national teams take a hit. There’s a big movement to bring pride back to national teams.”
The importance of the MLS All-Star Game
And then there’s the MLS All-Star Game, when the “best of MLS” take on an international giant. “I like the format and I enjoy the international competition,” Meola said. “Although the results don’t matter, our guys get an opportunity to compete.” He feels there is room for improvement in the voting process, and he would like to “give a little more weight to the players and the coaches in the league.” (Can’t say that I disagree on that one.) Meola talks to many players and coaches, both on his SiriusXM show and as he travels around the country and feels that the line-up would be very different if there was “a little more balance” in the voting process. He thinks the game would be even more beneficial if we showcased some young Americans on the pitch.
Giving back to the game that gave him so much
These days, besides the aforementioned SiriusXM radio show, Tony Meola is traveling to cities around the country with Allstate to go into local communities and give them a “fresh start.” They fix fields, paint lines, give them new benches, new soccer balls, goalkeeper gloves - whatever they need. “I love doing it,” Meola said. “I was fortunate in the game, but the game was always giving to me. It’s a chance to give back.”
In each city, Meola and his group not only fix up the fields and give them new equipment, but the kids get to go to a game that night. In this case, the kids are going to the MLS All-Star match. “It’s a huge thrill to see the looks on their faces. Only one kid raised his hand and said he was going to the game tonight, but by the end, they were all going to see the MLS-All Stars play Real Madrid.”