Many know the path of Tony Meola’s career. A product of New Jersey soccer who would grow up to play for local area teams like the Long Island Rough Riders, the Metrostars, and the Red Bulls. A player who spent time in England before the US made its return to the World Cup after a forty-year absence and, speaking of World Cups, a goalkeeper who would represent the United States in three of them.
Having coached at an assistant level with the US youth national teams, Meola made the jump to club soccer and head coaching in the same leap taking over the reins of the last-place Jacksonville Armada.
Despite all his experience, he still has a few things to figure out.
“I obviously have two challenges,” said Meola. “The first one is to get my feet underneath me as a head coach, to figure who I want to be, to figure out what kind of coach I want to be. I think every day I get a little closer to that. And then, the other one is sort of a team challenge. And that is taking a team that finished in last last year, taking a team that couldn’t figure out how to win on the road, which I think is really, really important for team morale, for team spirit to win games on the road and make them believe that they’re good enough.”
Noting a large number of changes made to the roster already, he added, “It’s not going to happen overnight for us.”
Asked if he ever saw himself as a coach, Meola had an interesting answer.
“You know, twenty years ago, probably not, ten years ago, maybe so, You know Gio [Savarese] and I used to have tactical discussions. We talked about the game all the time when we were playing together.
In 1995, Meola and Savarese were both part of the Long Island Rough Riders team that captured the US Interregional Soccer League national title in a year that would see them go 19-1 with Savarese capturing both the regular season and playoff MVP awards, in part because of a 23-goal campaign. The two would become teammates again on the Metrostars from 1996-1998.
Tony Meola and New York soccer history seem to be forever intertwined. With Meola debuting as an MLS player with the Metrostars twenty years ago, he was asked how it felt to debut as a head coach and to that, albeit on the road, in New York.
“When I took the job, I didn’t know it would turn out this way. It’s pretty neat to debut against a team that I grew up watching and now it’s a little more personal because I’m going to coach against a guy that I have, in Giovanni [Savarese], nothing but respect and admiration for. I love the guy, he’s like a brother to me and he’s done such a great job. I have the mission of playing a little bit of catch-up at the moment, but I couldn’t be any more excited about being part of this group and this being a challenge for me.”
The two still stay in touch. But, despite finding himself as the head coach and technical director of an NASL club, Meola is under no illusion of being in the same circumstances as Gio, head coach and sporting director of the Cosmos and made that clear as he responded to a question.
“But, I want to make it clear. You say we’re in a similar position; we’re really not. Gio’s got two championships in the NASL and I don’t. So, we’re a little different in position, but I’m going to try to catch up I promise you.”
Despite all the love that Meola shows, Gio, it’s nice to see that spark of competition at the end.
Hear more from Tony Meola on our last show.