Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Chat with Tony Meola and Ocho's Trials

Contributing Editor Graham Fox

On Friday I got the chance to talk to Tony Meola on the phone for about 15 minutes as he was driving around New Jersey.

If you are going to the Argentina V. USA game tonight bring your memorabilia to the game. Tony will be outside in the AllState Fan Zone from 4-6 signing autographs, taking pictures, and kissing babies.

du Nord: How did you get involved with AllState and the upcoming National Team Game?

Tony Meola: This is AllState’s first year of sponsorship with US Men’s National Team, the Woman’s, and with Major League Soccer. AllState prides themselves on protection and I was apparently the first person who came to mind.

dN: How’d they get in contact with you? Call you up? Email? Do you still have an agent?

TM: I do ya. They got to me through the National Team and were doing a series of five or six events based around the men’s team and the woman’s team and Major League Soccer.

dN: So you’re not just doing the Argentina game but a couple other’s as well?

Ya, ya, I think I’m doing two men’s games, the All-Star Game, the Final, and we are mixing in two women’s games as well.

dN: That sounds like fun!

TM: Yeah! The whole scene has defiantly changed a bit from years past!

dN: What's on your schedule for today?

TM: Today we’ve been booked with interviews pretty much since 8 am. we’ve had one every 15 minutes (I feel special). We do have a cool event tonight (Friday night). We are going out to surprise the team during their practice, do a couple juggling competitions, and then AllState is outfitting the team with new home and away uniforms as well as new equipment for all the coaches.

dN: So what’s on your schedule for Saturday?

TM: The big event on Saturday, besides some other media stuff, is the AllState Fan Zone. I’ll camp out and sign autographs. That going from 3-7 outside the stadium and I’ll be there from 4-6 and we’ll do a raffle where a couple fans get to get closer to the game. We’ll take a couple fans in and give them a tour that they wouldn’t be able to get otherwise.

dN: Do you get recognized on the streets?

In this area of New Jersey yeah. It’s such a big soccer hotbed.

dN: You know, I’ve been thinking, I’m 27 and around that time for a lot of soccer players, maybe not goal keepers, but field players that heading towards the end of their careers. For me, I feel like I’m at the start of my career, and have a ton left to do. It would be weird to feel like my first career was winding down. How did you decide what you wanted to do when you were heading towards retiring?

TM: Well you know, the decision was made for me by Bruce Arena when he released me from New York.

I was a little disenchanted because I certainly thought I had a couple more years to go. I had the opportunity to go to with Preki but I was really at the point where I didn’t want to pick up and move all the way across the country again, I’d been doing it for twenty years.

I still think about going back into goalkeeping. I watch games and see all these guys go back. Pat Onstad signed for DC after retiring. Jans Lehman just signed back with Arsenal. I think about it all the time, but then I kick myself and change my mind.

The thing you miss most is being in the locker room and taking 25 guys who come from so many different parts of the world and trying to accomplish the same thing. It was always a challenge and always the fun part for me.

dN: What are you doing now? What’s your full time job?

TM: Well, 3 years ago I started my own goalkeeping equipment and apparel company and we’ve now expanded that company, GK1 Sports, into basketball, baseball, and hockey and we are now expanding into lacrosse and football. It’s all team uniforms and compression ware.

I owned the business, sold it, and then bought it back in August. We’re now revamping everything. By the opening of school I think everything will be up and running full steam like we’d like it to.

That’s my full time job.

dN: I think I read on your wiki page that you run a mortgage company.

TM: Yeah, I did for four years. Now I’m back in sports where I think I belong.

dN: Do you think it’s easier for MLS players who have a college education to transition to from full time pro soccer to the American business world?

TM: Well in general it’s easier for anyone who has that education to transition out of sports. The important thing, and I’ve talked to so many guys about it, is preparing yourself a little bit.

The first thing everyone thinks about is save money, but what I’m thinking about is finding out what excites you. Nothing is going to excite you like playing does. And the last thing you want to do is to go to something that bores the daylights out of you.

DN: Like working a call center.

TM: That would be the message. You see so many guys who just stay in coaching. A couple guys who I know are now coaching in the league and they all say it’s the next best thing. Some people have landed in television, but it has to be something that excites you and that’s what you have to figure out.

dN: Have you thought about going into coach?

TM: Well I coach at the youth level. I have thought about it. Bob Bradley asked me to join when he first took the job but I just wasn’t ready to hang up playing, and I wasn’t ready to coach. Once you get married to that life you’re in it. You got to be committed to know you could be in a different city every three years.

It’s a strange position but now with all these new teams coming into the league there are so many openings. Some groups seem committed to having American coaches and some are sort of on the fence about what they want to do.

dN: Do you have a favorite National Team moment, a memory you really love?

TM:Well you know there are a couple that stick out but if I had to pick one it would be the win in Trinidad over Trinidad where Trinidad only had to tie the game to go through.

We hadn’t been to the World Cup in 40 years and we were certainty the underdog and out manned in the stand and for a good portion of the game we were plain outmanned. While they weren’t terrible dangerous they took control. But after we got the goal we really didn’t have to do anything else other than defend. We didn’t have to expose ourselves at all and it worked out.

I think it was the one game that really changed the face of our sport.

dN: What about a favorite MLS moment?

TM:It would probably be the championship in 2000, for a lot of different reasons.

My dad had been battling cancer for really, the entire time I was in Kansas City and that was the first time after his last round of chemo that he came out of the house. They literally drove him to the stadium, he made it to the game, and he didn’t have enough energy for the post party so they drove him back to New Jersey. That was really cool. And thank God he’s a survivor.

Also, for some reason, that particular Kansas City team, no one believed in. If you go look at it, from day one of the season we started in first place and we ran the entire table and were in first place every day of the season.

Only one guy picked us to win the Championship, that was Ray Hudson, and I’ll never let him forget it. All these “experts” were predicting we would lose, and Ray said “Kansas City is going to win 1-0.” And sure enough that’s how it ended up.

But again, we broke the record that year defensively and still no one thought we would win. We played a great Chicago team. They brought Josh Wolff off the bench, DaMarcus Beasley off the bench, and Kubik off the bench. There’s like seven world cups between those three guys.

It was a good day for us.

dN: Do you have a favorite goalkeeper in the world right now?

TM: Yeah, Tim Howard, and I’ll tell you why. I knew him when he was 18, and I know the obstacles he’s had to overcome. I know what he went through in the media when he first moved to England, and through all of that they somehow now love the guy. And as unfair as all that was I’m sure for him was the biggest lesson he’s ever learned.

dN: Do you have a favorite, younger, up-and-coming goalkeeper?

TM: Josh Saunders who plays for the Galaxy looked really good opening night. He didn’t panic, made two or three saves just by being in position, made one really difficult save, and he looked pretty solid.

dN: Since you came through the ranks, have you seen a lot of advances in training techniques or technology when it comes to goalkeepers?

TM: What you’re seeing is the goalkeeping coaches are guys who have actually played before. They coach you instead of just train you and I think that’s a huge advantage for goalkeepers now. Everyone just talks about saves but there are just so many other things that go into goalkeeping.

How you manage the pace of the game, how you start an attack, when you start it, when you don’t start it, how you read body language around you when you’re just kind of surviving as a team, and how you manage all of that stuff. It’s hard for someone who hasn’t been in there and experienced that to teach it. Now we are seeing so many guys who have been in that situation that you can have a conversation about it. We didn’t really use to have that.

Tony was a class act and a really nice guy to chat with. Thanks Tony I enjoyed learning about your memories and how players move into life after pro soccer.


The Ochocinco Saga: Ocho is Going to Get a Reserve Team Slot
On Thursday, I took my lunch break to head down to Sporting KC's practice and watch Ocho train. The day before, the other bloggers told me there were 40 or 50 media members but on his second day there was just the regular crowd (plus ESPN who was allowed to walk around on the pitch).
All photo credit goes to my wife, Jenna Fox Photography, who is an amazing photographer and does portraits, weddings, and such.

Ocho wasn’t that bad, but you could tell he wasn’t a professional futballer. His touch was clumsy, and at time he looked out of place during a the keep away drills and the full 11 v 11 practice.

The Ocho I’ve seen on YouTube and been told about is loud and boisterous. Always talking shit, always full of it, but that’s not what I saw on the practice pitch. He had his head down working. He sprinted hard through the drills. He listened to directions. If you didn’t know he was a special one you wouldn’t think he was too out of place (just a bad college trialist who was built like a muscle torpedo).

Yesterday, we heard that Ocho’s trial had been extended through Monday for a reserve team game. Everyone, especially soccer die-hards are waiting for him to fail with baited breath. There is no way a non-soccer player can come in and win a spot! This is simply a sideshow! It’s almost a slap in the face! Simply a clever media ploy.


Yes, it may be all that but there’s more going on. Peter Vermes said he’s brought in a lot of trailist, and 90 percent of them have had less physical ability than Ocho. He’s also commented on how coachable he is. Take Ocho’s impeccable physical ability, his coachability, his willingness to play at league minimum salary, the media attention he will draw to Sporting, and the amount of money they will make in #85 Jersey sales, and you have a formula for success.

What reason do they have NOT to sign him, and then use him as a bit-player (or maybe more) in the newly re-formed reserve league?

Ocho doesn’t have anywhere close to the skills to start a regular game, but with the reserve league back, there is an opportunity for those who simply have promise and not all the immediate skills and talents to be a first teamer.

You heard it here first. Ocho is going to be a Sporting Kansas City player before this is all done.

The Strokes have a new album out – Angles

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Anonymous Joe the Curmudgeon said...

Well done, Graham!

2:21 PM  
Anonymous Doug said...

Very interesting Meola interview and the Ochocinco saga was a good read, too.

6:22 PM  
Anonymous Dakota said...

That was a really good interview, very interesting to read. I like some of the comments said and it really got me thinking. Thanks for the article

12:47 AM  
Blogger Graham said...

Hah, well they didn't sign him, but he is invited to play and train with the reserve team for the summer, does that make me half right on my prediction?

11:02 AM  

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