Despite undergoing trials with an NFL team, appearing in theatre productions and gigging with a popular cover band, Tony Meola is best known for the 16 years that he spent playing professional soccer.
Meola was an all-rounder when it came to sports. He alternated between playing in goal and as a striker throughout his high school days, while he was also an exceptional at both basketball and baseball. In fact, he was drafted by Major League Baseball side the New York Yankees after finishing high school. However, Meola had developed a love for the beautiful game from an early age, learning from his father, who had himself played at a professional level for Italian side Avellino.
It was during his time at the University of Virginia that Meola really started to make a name for himself, winning a place on the All-American team in both his freshman and sophomore years, as well as a place in the United States U-20 squad for the 1987 World Youth Championship. With his soccer career beginning to take off, Meola dropped out of college to undergo a loan spell with English club Brighton & Hove Albion.
By that point Meola had already broken into the United States national team, cementing the starting spot in time for the 1990 World Cup. Despite crashing out of the tournament having failed to win a single game, the shot-stopper left for England in high spirits. The youngster would taste success with the national team, however, as they lifted the CONCACAF Gold Cup the following year.
After struggling for game time in England, Meola called time on his soccer days to pursue a career as a professional footballer. However, he soon returned to the sport in 1995, eventually helping the club to gain promotion to the second tier of the North American club pyramid. From there the talented keeper moved to New York MetroStars, where he would emerge as a top once again.
However, his best performances would come for Kansas City Wizards, where he would win the only MLS Cup title of his career in 2000 – a season which saw him named League MVP, Goalkeeper of the Year and MLS Cup MVP. Meola remained with the Wizards until 2004, when he returned to New York Red Bulls to play what would be his final season.
Meola hung up his boots having made over 100 appearances for his country, winning two Gold Cups. Likewise, he was also named in the MLS All-Time Best XI, in recognition of his fantastic spells with the Metrostars and Kansas City Wizards. However, his relationship with the game wasn’t quite over.
Following a short spell playing indoor soccer, Meola spent some time away from the game. During that time the popular goalkeeper spent some time on the sidelines as an assistant coach to the United States national team youth ranks. Despite receiving offers from a number of clubs, as well as the United States senior team, to join the backroom staff as a goalkeeping coach, Meola was determined to prove that he could make it as a manager.
“To be completely honest it’s been difficult for a couple of years. I was called for the national team a few years ago before Jurgen [Klinsmann] was there, to be a goalkeeper coach. I’ve been called by club teams to be a goalkeeper coach,” Tony Meola admitted. “It’s difficult to break the mould of everyone wanting you to be a goalkeeper coach. It was not easy.”
After working tirelessly to receive his coaching badges, the chance finally came in 2015, when the former shot-stopper was named as head coach of North American Soccer League side Jacksonville Armada FC. While the club continue to struggle at the foot of the NASL table, if Meola is a faction as good at management as he is between the sticks, he is certain to make another big contribution to
the sport from the sidelines.