Former United States men’s national team goalkeeper Tony Meola is a legend in the history of the U.S. program, playing in three World Cups, including the team’s memorable run in 1994.
In total, Meola earned 100 caps in his storied career for the U.S. We caught up with him in Arizona prior to the U.S.’s friendly against Mexico tomorrow and talked about Major League Soccer’s failure in the CONCACAF Champions League, Julian Green’s recent commitment to the U.S. program and his definition of success for the U.S. in Brazil.
Bleacher Report: So, besides watching the national team tomorrow, what are you doing in Arizona?
Tony Meola: I’m out here with Allstate. We’re in our fourth year of sponsorship with U.S. Soccer and MLS. We’ll do a clinic tonight in the community. When it’s all said and done, the kids will walk away with new uniforms and gear for their entire team. Tomorrow, we’ll be part of the Allstate Fan Zone and those kids that are at the clinic tonight will join us at the game tomorrow.
B/R: A lot was made about MLS' failure to get a team into the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals despite having squads in three of the four quarterfinal matches. What did you make of those results?
TM: They had chances, right? LA had the best chance. In all three cases, the series were lost at home… We’ve got to do a better job, there’s no question. Ultimately, the timing of the tournament is not great for MLS teams. Most (MLS) teams only played one game prior to being in the tournament when the Mexican teams were in full form. It’s not an excuse, by any stretch, but that point has to be addressed. We’ve got to do a better job. We’ve got to be better prepared.
B/R: Do you think there’s a reason behind the fact that the USMNT can be so dominant in CONCACAF year after year, but MLS struggles to make an impact in the region at the club level?
TM: It shows at the (international) level, our players are a little bit better…At the end of the day, you’ve just got to get the job done. We were able to get it done in previous tournaments. We did it with Kansas City—we got to a semifinal. D.C. United won that tournament. It’s been done before. This year, losing all three (semifinals) was tough. It makes people think and ask questions.
B/R: U.S. fans are pretty excited about getting Julian Green to commit to the U.S. What's your take on it?
TM: It’s great. The fact that he made the choice is pretty exciting, right? He did have an opportunity down the road to play for Germany. When you‘re as highly touted as him at a club like Bayern Munich…it’s pretty exciting. Hopefully, he’ll be able to develop into what everybody thinks he’s going to. I wouldn’t put too many expectations on him too quick, he’s 18. We’ll see what he can do. Obviously, he has to earn his place (on the national team).
B/R: You mention the fact that he’s 18, but at the same time, the U.S. only has a few weeks until they convene the World Cup training camp. If you’re Jurgen Klinsmann, do you give Green a spot on the World Cup roster?
TM: If you’re Jurgen Klinsmann, you’ve got to take the best 23 players. You don’t give him a spot because you’re there to win games. If he’s one of the best 23, I expect to see him on the plane to Brazil.
B/R: With such a short time between now and the World Cup training camp, do you think Green should get a start tomorrow night?
TM: I think you bring him off the bench. But, of course, we’ve seen Jurgen Klinsmann’s lineups. He’s not opposed to mixing it up a little bit. My guess is he won’t start, especially because it’s (Green’s) first camp (in the U.S.) and the fact that it’s our biggest rival.
B/R: Is there anybody you're particularly excited to see play tomorrow?
TM: I’m excited to see Clint Dempsey. Recently, it’s been a lot better than what we saw for the last couple months. I’m excited to see how he reacts to the whole situation and how he steps up. Obviously, he’s captain of the team and the team needs him. Those are all big challenges for him.
B/R: Is there anybody, with two months to go, you think the national team still needs to look at before they head to Brazil?
TM: I’m a fan of DeAndre Yedlin. I like him. I understand, technically, there might be some improvement to be made. I like his recovery speed. It might be too much to ask at this point, but there’s no question that he’s got an opportunity to get looked at. If it’s not this cycle, he’ll be a mainstay for the next cycle.
B/R: How would you judge the performance of Klinsmann thus far?
TM: He’s done a great job. For me, his best body of work was releasing Martin (Vasquez). Making a change this late in the game, with a guy he’s got a very good, a very close relationship with, shows he thought this was the best thing for the team… That shows a lot of really good leadership. Tab (Ramos) has been with the program since Jurgen’s first day. He’s been the technical director, he’s somebody (Klinsmann) is really comfortable with and somebody our players really respect.
B/R: I had a chance to speak to you before the Guatemala game in Kansas City a year and a half ago. Going into that game, the U.S. needed a result to get into the hex and you said, "What I judge personally is, do you get to the World Cup and then do you get out of the first round. For me, that’s success because those standards have been set. I would think with this group of players...anything short of that is not a success." Looking at the U.S.’s World Cup draw with Ghana, Portugal and Germany in the group-stage, do you still think the U.S. needs to get out of the group to say the World Cup is a success?
TM: I think so. If you asked them, they’d say the same thing. I think if you asked Jurgen Klinsmann, he’d say the same thing. I don’t think they can be happy with anything short of (advancement). This group of players would not be happy with anything less.
B/R: Do you think the U.S. gets out of the group-stage in Brazil?
TM: I think if they beat Ghana, they have a chance. For me, that’s the game that you have to win.
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