Tony Meola: On the Champions League Final, World Cup Qualifying & Landon Donovan
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Tony Meola would take Weidenfeller over Neuer, fancies the United States to take seven points from their next three matches and thinks because the national team is getting results, it’s easy for Jurgen Klinsmann to say “no” to Landon Donovan.
In a wide-ranging interview with Bleacher Report, the former USA goalkeeper spoke at length about Saturday’s Champions League Final and also touched on the upcoming round of World Cup qualifiers, his pride at representing his country and why the United States continues to develop top-quality 'keepers.
Here’s what he had to say.
B/R Soccer: Let’s look at the Champions League Final from a goalkeeper’s perspective. How much impact do you think Manuel Neuer and Roman Weidenfeller will have on the match?
Tony Meola: When you take a look at Neuer—obviously the goalkeeper for Germany and Bayern Munich—he’s done extremely well over the years, is used to the big stage and has been great all season. He’s had a few blunders here and there, but I think he is recognized as one of the top goalkeepers in the world.
And then you’ve got Weidenfeller in Dortmund’s goal—a guy who hasn’t been called into the national team but a keeper some people think needs to be called up at some point.
When you look at these two guys, I think you’ve got two goalkeepers who are very strong—two guys that can be difference-makers on Saturday, where one play one way or the other—either good or bad—could make a difference in who wins the game.
B/R Soccer: Would you rank one of the two above the other?
Tony Meola: If you just go based on Champions League form, I would give the edge to Weidenfeller. He has been outstanding in Champions League games and is part of the reason they are here. When you look at the comeback Real Madrid almost made, and even at some of the saves he made in the first leg, he’s just been outstanding. As far as the Champions League goes, I think Weidenfeller has been in top form.
B/R Soccer: The United States continues to churn out excellent goalkeepers as well. Why do you think that is?
Tony Meola: I attribute it to the fact that we grew up playing so many different sports. I think about the guys I played with—Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel, Tim Howard, Nick Rimando. Soccer was not the only sport they grew up playing, whereas oftentimes in Europe it’s all they play.
We play basketball; we play baseball—lots of hand-eye coordination sports. For the most part we excel at those sports and then take it onto the soccer sport.
I still think high school basketball for me (I was never going to become a basketball player) was one of the most important parts of my development, especially given the fact that I was a rebounder in basketball and as a goalkeeper I loved to take crosses. It was probably the strongest part of my game on the soccer field.
B/R Soccer: Who would you say is the top American goalkeeper right now?
Tony Meola: Well, obviously Tim Howard. But the exciting part is what we saw Brad Guzan do, not only in the domestic league, but against Costa Rica, where he was outstanding in difficult conditions. He didn’t make a lot of tough saves, but he made a lot of important plays.
And then he went down to Mexico City, which is a place where I never won. They came out with the result there, and I think that might be the one result we look back on that bound this team together, especially given all the things the national team was going through—all the articles that were flying around and the things that were being said.
When it’s all said and done and they qualify, that Mexico game might be the game everyone looks to.
B/R Soccer: You hinted at it between the lines, but let’s talk about Landon Donovan. Do you think Jurgen Klinsmann would be right to omit him from the United States squad?
Tony Meola: Whether Landon Donovan should be called back, for me, is always a matter of, “Is he good enough to play right now for the national team?” That’s the one thing Jurgen Klinsmann has to look at: “Is he good enough for this team? Is he a good enough piece to this puzzle for this team?”
I’m sure players have opinions on what he did—what he decided to do for himself. I think everyone respects that’s what he needed to do—it’s what Landon needed to do for Landon. But when it comes to the national team, I think you look at it a little bit differently.
Having said that, I think Landon’s done and said all the right things. But now that they’ve won without Landon, it becomes a little bit easier for Klinsmann to say “no” to Landon Donovan.
But the U.S. doesn’t have a million Landon Donovans running around. More than anything, for me, Landon’s biggest attribute is that he finds the time and the place to make it happen when the U.S. needs it most. He’s been that guy. With him not on the field I think we lose that.
B/R Soccer: The United States has upcoming matches away to Jamaica and at home to Panama and Honduras. How do you see those games shaking down?
Tony Meola: I’m an optimist when it comes to the national team. I still think you come out of there with seven points and you go to the World Cup. You’ll separate yourself from some teams with seven points.
The idea is always to get one point on the road and three at home. If they can tie that Jamaica game, I think the mission becomes a lot easier. Jamaica has been a difficult place for us to play. But Panama and Honduras at home—that needs to be an automatic six points.
B/R Soccer: Should they qualify for the World Cup, what sort of experience will it be for the current internationals? You can identify, having even played in a home World Cup—in a team that had some crazy hair.
Tony Meola: We did have some hair!
For a soccer player, for me, it’s the ultimate—to represent your country and do it at home in a World Cup. And I was even more fortunate as I was the captain of that team. It’s a huge honor to be able to say that.
A lot of guys can play in the World Cup. There aren’t a heck of a lot who can say they captained their team in their home country in the World Cup. It’s one of the things in my career I’m most proud of. It was always a huge honor for me.
B/R Soccer: The Champions League Final is on Saturday, and you’ll be involved in the Heineken UEFA Champions League Viewing Party. What will that event look and feel like?
Tony Meola: I’m hosting this party in New York. It’s Heineken’s seventh year sponsoring the UEFA Champions League, and we’re having what we’re calling an “Epic Viewing Party.
We’re just going to have a good time. We’ll have halftime shows. We’ve got the Pier (Basketball City at Pier 36, 299 South Street) that has been converted into what will look and make you feel like you’re at Wembley Stadium.
It should be a lot of fun. It’s a really big day in this area for soccer. Heineken has brought the most hardcore fans to get together and enjoy a soccer game.
B/R Soccer: Do you have a prediction?
Tony Meola: I’ve been so bad at these over the years! But I’m sticking with Bayern Munich, 2-1. You might want to change it if you have the same score!
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