Legendary Goalkeeper Tony Meola on The Game Hasn’t Really Changed
Meola played for the U.S. Men’s National Team on three world cup rosters and earned the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Award in 2000 speaks out on our U.S. Soccer Men’s National Team and their efforts in the 2019 Gold Cup.
The Changing Face of American Soccer Series
Former United States Men’s National Soccer Team (USMNT) star goalkeeper Tony Meola is a legend. As veteran goalkeeper of three FIFA World Cups — 1990, 1994, and the 2002 World Cups, Meola was an unstoppable force for our country.
One of the founding players of the MLS in 1996, Meola was drafted by the MetroStars — the original name of the New York Red Bulls and also played for the Kansas City Wizards, today’s Sporting KC MLS franchise.
We caught up with Meola while he was back in Kansas City, working with Allstate on their “Day for Play” celebration — which included offering soccer fans the chance to shoot against the legendary goalkeeper.
Diane Scavuzzo: Is American soccer still in search of a style of play?
Tony Meola: We have a style of play, or perhaps better words would be a system of play. Under Tab Ramos, head coach of the U.S. Soccer U20 Men’s team, we have set up the 4-3-3 in the youth program for the last couple of cycles.
It is always important that the style of the play should be the same throughout all levels of the Men’s team all the way down through the youth.
Diane Scavuzzo: How would you describe our American style of play?
Tony Meola: It is an aggressive, possession-oriented style. It is clear that Gregg Berhalter, head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team, wants a possession-based style to the USMNT.
While wanting the players to possess the ball is important, we also have to remember that regardless of a preferred style of play, you have to always be able to adapt to the players you have on your team.
And, while there is a lot of talk of defining our American player and our nation’s style, there isn’t anyone in the world that only has one style of play.
Diane Scavuzzo: How would you describe one of our Men’s National Team best traits?
Tony Meola: We have always been a good counter attacking team.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is our greatest weakness?
Tony Meola: Not controlling longer periods of the game.
I know I am sort of old school when I talk about center backs, but although
Can the center back effectively defend against a
Diane Scavuzzo: Is modern day soccer very different from when you played — not that your playing days were so long ago?
Tony Meola: Modern day football is not that different.
The guys in my era could have played today, but we would have to play differently.
The guys I played with were all as skilled as the players today but we were not asked to play the way players are today. While I do think the game is that much faster — maybe it does look different from it did 40 years ago, the question is would Maradona or Pele adjusted to the way the game is played now and the answer is yes.
We were not asked to play consistent balls into the center midfield — we used to skip the center midfield and make the 45 yard passes. You see that happen on the field but more often it is about threading a needle or feeding the ball to the #9.
Make the game about what you can do, not what you can’t.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is the biggest difference in soccer today?
Tony Meola: The biggest difference is the theory of the game. Everyone now wants to see the beautiful game played beautifully.
People, coaches and fans, get mad when teams play physical against us.
It is a romantic idea that everyone wants to play 20 passes before you score.
But really, I would like to get the goal in 3 or 23 passes.
We never know what the game dictates.
Ideally, everyone wants to play beautiful soccer and win.
Sometimes you have to play ugly to win.
There are different ways to win and I wouldn’t discount any way to win. What is not beautiful about controlling the ball and knocking it down into the back of the net?
Everyone has a different threshold. Playing the ball out of the back and through all three lines is a great concept to promote, but you have to be better at what you do than the other team is.
You run into teams that just want physically beat you up — the idea is to break up their rhythm. And, you have to be good enough not to let that happen to you.
I can see that Berhalter has a plan and there is a progression.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you think of the current roster for the U.S. Men’s National Team?
Tony Meola: Everyone pins their hopes on Pulsic and it may be unfair and I know he doesn’t like the media part of the game — but it something to deal with.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you like best about working with Allstate?
Tony Meola: Allstate gets really immersed in the community. It takes sponsors like Allstate to keep the ball rolling and continue to grow the game of soccer in America — it has been incredible how many people we have touched.
Working with Allstate over the past six years, we have refurbished soccer fields, held clinics for underprivileged kids, handed out soccer gear and now switch out old soccer balls with new ones.
What Allstate does it great — It all helps the game grow.
We are lucky to have sponsors like Allstate who push the game forward.
Soccer legends like Meola have joined with Allstate to help grow the beautiful game in local cities with a “Day for Play” — an event that celebrates our shared love for soccer. One of the highlights of the Allstate “Day for Play” program was exchanging worn out old soccer balls for brand new ones, courtesy of Allstate. The Day for Play encouraged fans to get outdoors and join in fun activities which included shooting on goal against Meola, as well as taking photos with the Gold Cup trophy prior to matches for the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup.