It’s only been five games into the 2012 season, but Ryan Meara has made an impact in goal that the New York Red Bulls were missing badly last season.
In the first five games last season, the team had only allowed three goals, but they had to use three different goalies (and they only had two wins). As the season went on, mistakes by the man in net were abundant and the team used five different players at the position.
Mistakes, inconsistencies and not having chemistry on defense doomed the Red Bulls, as they barely made the playoffs and suffered a second-round exit.
It was a position that team desperately needed to upgrade in the offseason. So it was a bit puzzling when a franchise that has had no issues spending money on players and recruiting mostly foreigners to join the squad put the team literally in the hands of an American rookie.
The 21-year-old out of Fordham University was selected by the Red Bulls with the 31st pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft. He was the first goalie taken in the draft and the only player the Red Bulls selected in the draft.
“We think he’s the best goalkeeper in the college system. He’s big, he’s strong, we need a goalie, and he’s from New York,” Red Bulls General Manager Erik Soler told the media after the draft. “Every factor that we looked at was there, and he was the player we wanted most from the draft simply because we needed a goalkeeper.”
Meara beat out another young American, Jeremy Vuolo, for the starting spot out of preseason and he has been quite the find. He has started the first five games and played every minute of them. He leads all of MLS in saves (21) and the Red Bulls have three victories.
The Red Bulls defense was bad last year and is still rather shaky. The loss of Tim Ream and his calmness on the ball is a big one. Markus Holgersson has failed to adjust to MLS thus far, Wilman Conde has not been healthy and the defensive bite in midfield has been absent due to the injuries of Teemu Tainio and the early suspension of Rafa Marquez.
Still, Meara has held strong in the back and has made a number of great saves to protect Red Bull leads or keep the team in the game.
“He’s looked very composed. He’s a low-key guy, but a hard worker,” head coach Hans Backe said in an interview with the New York Post. “Fingers crossed now, I think definitely he has a future.”
The 6'4" goalie commands a strong presence and poise in net. He shows good athleticism and in the team’s poor opening to the season in Dallas, Meara was one of only a couple of bright spots.
He was born in Yonkers, New York and admits he grew up a MetroStars fan. The club, despite all its recent struggles finding a keeper, has had the luxury of playing some of the best goalies in league history such as Tim Howard, Tony Meola and Johnnie Walker.
“Going into this whole process, in the back of my mind I was thinking the Red Bulls. I was thinking how staying local would be great,” Meara said in an interview for the team’s website.
Meara is young and there still is room for improvement, as there should be. But he has looked like a good prospect early on and as the defense in front of him solidifies itself and he develops better chemistry with them, he could develop into one of the best in the league.
For right now, though, the responsibilities he has taken on have been huge and he has performed admirably. The consistency he has brought to the Red Bulls defense is just as important as the goals that Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper have scored.
It looks like the name Ryan Meara will be one that actually sticks around for a while.