U.S. Soccer: Tony Meola Talks Allstate Work, MLS Rivalry Week and U.S. Tactics

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U.S. Soccer: Tony Meola Talks Allstate Work, MLS Rivalry Week and U.S. Tactics
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Tony Meola is a U.S. soccer legend—no question about it.  The New Jersey native was the starting goalkeeper for the U.S. national team's 1994 World Cup run and played many years thereafter in Major League Soccer for the MetroStars, the Kansas City Wizards and the New York Red Bulls.

One of the best athletes in the University of Virginia's history, Meola played his college soccer for former U.S. national team head coach and curent L.A. Galaxy head coach, Bruce Arena.

Meola's pure athleticism and fearlessness were key aspects in his success as a professional goalkeeper.  His presence for U.S. soccer was a critical part of the growth of the game in this country.  Along with the rest of his teammates during the 1994 World Cup, Meola and company set the stage for the start of MLS.

Still involved in the game, Meola has teamed up with Allstate to bring his knowledge and legend to lucky groups of youth soccer players.  Currently visiting Seattle ahead of the Sounders' rivalry match with the Portland Timbers, Meola, alongside Allstate representatives, surprised some players on Seattle United.

Meola dropped in on a practice session and provided a special “Good Hands® F.C." soccer clinic for the team.  Meola was in charge of practice and offered a unique experience for some young soccer players: the chance to learn from one of the best goalkeepers in U.S. soccer history.

In addition to expert coaching tips from Meola, Allstate also provided tickets to Seattle's upcoming match with the Portland Timbers as well as new soccer gear for the players.  This was definitely an afternoon these young people, many of whom struggle financially and might not be able to afford the equipment required to play soccer, will not forget.

After explaining what he did for the players on the Seattle United team with Allstate, Meola and I covered a wide range of soccer topics.  From his thoughts on the MLS Rivalry Week, 100 years of U.S. soccer and what tactics he would employ for the current national team, Meola offered a fantastic and intelligent insight into the beautiful game.

Here are the questions and answers from my interview with the exceptional Tony Meola.

Bleacher Report: You have teamed with Allstate and you are in Seattle. Can you go into a little bit about what you are doing with the kids and your involvement? 

Tony MeolaThis is Allstate's third year with sponsorship with both the National Team and Major League Soccer.  This is also my third year with Allstate in this sponsorship. Essentially, what we do is go around to different cities in the country, based around different events: World Cup Qualifiers, All-Star Games, MLS Cup, the last few years.  We try and engulf ourselves a little bit in the community for the weekend.  The night prior to each game we attend, is a community event. What we do is what I call barging in on one of the practices of the local teams.  They don't know about it and I don't know the name of the team before going in.  They take part of an Allstate clinic and at the end, they are given free uniforms, soccer balls, shinguards, bags and tracksuits.  Allstate provides everything they need to get through the season and ultimately a ticket to tomorrow's game.  These are needy groups, groups that aren't necessarily as fortunate as some of the others.  So we get the opportunity to help out a little bit.  

Bleacher Report: Sounds like a fantastic venture.  Anything specifically that is your favorite part of teaming up and doing this type of work?

Tony Meola: Yeah, I do.  I ask all the guys who's going to the game, in this case it will be the Portland Timbers coming into Seattle for Rivalry Week and there are rarely any hands that go up.  And you always ask before, who wants to go to the game, and they eventually all raise their hands.  They have no idea in an hour they will find out that they are going to the game.  That's the coolest part for me.  

Bleacher Report: Anything else we should know about the program? 

Tony MeolaTomorrow I'll be outside in the Allstate Fan Zone.  Starts at 2 p.m. local time.  The game is at five tomorrow.  I'll be at the Allstate Fan Zone signing autographs. 

Bleacher Report: On the topic of that game and MLS Rivalry Week, I wanted your opinion on how you think the Timbers vs. Sounders rivalry stacks up when compared to the classic American sports rivalries?  Yankees, Red Sox?  Ohio State, Michigan?  

Tony Meola: Most people know this rivalry from MLS, but this rivalry has been going on for quite some time.  What they've done to translate it into Major League Soccer is amazing.  They have great support on both sides, they've got great fan bases that travel to both locations.  And prior to the game, I don't know how these people make it through the games cause they must be exhausted by the time the games actually get there.  They're pretty enthusiastic, they obviously love their teams, they are knowledgeable about their teams, and I think what MLS is trying to do is pretty neat: developing this rivalry week, where fans can build traditions around these teams.  I know in some places it is harder than others, but for the most part they have done a pretty good job.

Bleacher Report: It seems like, on the surface, a lot of current players don’t take rivalries as seriously as the fans.  As a former player, when you played against a Mexico or a D.C. United, how did you feel about the other team, and the other players?  Was there a bit of a hatred there?  How would you describe that?     

Tony Meola: There was definitely respect.  I always respected the guys I played against.  But I didn't like Mexico, I didn't like D.C. United.  Those were our rivals for a reason.  They were fun to play in for sure.  For sure, the fans really enjoy it.  They enjoy to brag about their teams.  And now with social media, the way all these Supporter's groups are connected and having the Supporter's Shield, everyone is looking for the upper hand. 

Bleacher Report: On MLS, currently who is your favorite player to watch and why?

Tony MeolaI can't pick one right now; I can pick two, though.  The first one is Graham Zusi, for Sporting K.C.  Just because I enjoy the way he plays the game.  I enjoy watching young kids come up through the system.  The other one would have to be Robbie Keane.  He's just exciting to watch.  His enthusiasm about the game is contagious.  We've spoken to guys on his team, Mike Magee, Omar Gonzalez, on our show and they all say the same thing about him, his enthusiasm is contagious.  Even when I'm watching the game on TV, he's compelling me to stay there with him. 

Bleacher Report: Which team do you think plays the best brand of soccer?

Tony MeolaHard to pick one, here.  It'd have to be either Seattle or L.A. for me, right now.  Sporting K.C. would have been in there last year.  They've got to find their feet a little bit with some new players.  I think they will eventually get to it.  But I think right now, Seattle and Los Angeles, for me,

Bleacher Report: Best goalkeeper in the league?

Tony MeolaThat's a tough one.  I hate statistics for that position.  I just think they're very misleading, although you have to have them.  It's sort of an indicator.  I'm a big fan of Nick Rimando and what he does.  I think he is the total package.  He's got the leadership.  He's won championships, he's played in big games, he's a good shot-stopper, he's very good with his feet.  So he's the full package. 

Bleacher Report: I would like to transition to the USMNT.  The team is celebrating 100 years as a federation.  When you were playing at Virginia for Bruce Arena, did you know, at that time, that he was a special talent?  Was there something specific about the way he prepared, communicated, or saw the game that you found unique?

Tony MeolaWell, I don't know that I knew then, honestly, but I look back at it and Virginia wasn't on my radar until Bruce Arena walked into my house.  There was something about the minute I met him, him and I clicked.  We were both on the same page.  I liked what he had to say.  And, of course, looking back on it, he made all the right steps and deserves everything.  I can't say I knew it then, because I didn't know that much.  But I do know that when he walked in my house, that was the guy I wanted to play for.

Bleacher Report: Biggest goal in the country’s 100 year history, for you?

Tony MeolaPaul Caligiuri's goal in 1989.

Bleacher Report: Biggest save in the country’s 100 year history, for you?

Tony MeolaBrad Friedel, PK save against Korea, 2002. 

Bleacher Report: Are you a big tactics person?  If so, what is your preferred formation for the U.S. against Costa Rica and Mexico in the upcoming qualifiers?

Tony MeolaI am, for me any formation that involves only one defensive midfielder.  Whether you want to make it a 4-1-3-2, or any version of that.  Even if it's a 4-4-2 with one holding guy, I just think when we line up with three defensive midfielders we are setting ourselves up for lack of opportunities up front.  I think we have better players that can get the job done.  I understand you wanna protect, but we're at home now.  It's a must win for us and we have to score some goals. 

Bleacher Report: Who would be your preferred central midfield pairing be at this point?

Tony MeolaMichael Bradley.  And next to him, Mike Bradley.

Bleacher Report:  Who, next to him?

Tony Meola: Michael Bradley.

Bleacher Report: Assuming Landon Donovan returns, where would you play him?  And where would you play him relation to Clint Dempsey?

Tony MeolaI would play him out wide right and I'd play Clint just behind the forwards.  I would play a 4-1-3-2.

Bleacher Report: How big of a blow to the team's confidence is having Tim Howard out of the lineup?

They will obviously miss Tim's presence but I think Brad {Guzan} is ready to step in and do a great job.  I don't think when the game starts they'll miss a beat in that position.  I also think in a lot of ways it could act as sort of a rallying cry behind Brad and a motivator to pick up the pieces for a guy that has been really a leader for what seems like it's going on 10 years now. 

Bleacher Report: 100 years without a World Cup title for the United States.  Do you expect to see one one in your lifetime? 

Tony MeolaI hope so.  I also hope to see the next 100 years.

Bleacher Report:  If they do win, do you know how you would celebrate?

Tony MeolaNo, but I got a couple of years to figure that out, I guess, right?

Bleacher Report: Both Tim Howard and Brad Friedel have scored goals from the goalkeeper position in the Premier League.  Did you ever score from the goalkeeper position?  If so, how?  If not, what would your dream goal from the goalkeeper position be?

Tony Meola: No, I have not but it would definitely be on a 25-yard free kick.  It wouldn't be from a punt or a corner kick, coming up to head a ball, It'd be from the opportunity to take a free kick. 

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