Goalkeeper Ryan Meara in action for the New York Red Bulls. NY Red Bulls website photo.
By Max O'Neill
On July 11, the New York Red Bulls open up their MLS tournament slate against Atlanta United, this after a layoff dating back to March 7 due to Covid-19.
The Red Bulls started the season back on March 1 and went 1-0-1 before the shutdown, which came without goalie Ryan Meara, who had tweaked his hamstring in the final preseason game.
Meara, who is joined on the goalkeeping roster by new addition David Jensen, is expected to start the tournament games for the Red Bulls.
The MLS tournament opens up today, July 8, in Orlando, Florida at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports facility. Players will be in a bubble for six weeks, until the end of the tournament on August 11.
This season is the first time since 2011 that the Red Bulls are without stars Bradley Wright Phillips, Luis Robles, and Connor Lade, making Meara the longest tenured player on the roster. This helps him lead his team.
“It is a responsibility as one of the older guys on the team, longest tenured guys on the team to just show the young guys, to show them the Red Bull culture,” says Meara, who is 29 so still young for a goalkeeper.
He is not worried about being in the bubble because of his not having children, but understands others' concerns.
“I think as a whole we are excited, but I feel bad for the guys with young kids and stuff that will be a challenge for their families,” he said.
As the MLS regular season got only two games into the season before the season was put on pause, Meara says that it was difficult to get started and then pause, but that it was understood there were bigger problems going on in the world than the season being put on hold.
He says that the excitement to restart has replaced the excitement to start up in the first place and the ensuing disappointment of being paused.
“I think now, everyone’s just so happy to get back out to training, and once we get down to Orlando, the whole league is excited to get the games back on and get the season started.”
Meara, who says he would have started the third game of the regular season had the season not been paused, is sharing in the excitement over the starting up.
“Now I’m hoping to be the starter in Orlando,” he said.
In between the almost four month break as COVID-19 ravaged the world, Meara said that he viewed the break as an offseason more than an international break.
“In the offseason you’re just trying to stay sharp, stay fit, and just be ready for when the season resumes.”
As athletes around the world are dealing with trying to stay in shape during the quarantines, the Red Bulls are in the same boat.
For example, the strength and conditioning coaches sent Meara and his teammates workouts to accomplish every day and have been keeping track of the players' run mileage.
Meara says that some of his teammates had to improvise the weightlifting portions of the workout saying, “guys were putting heavy stuff into suitcases that they had so they could lift it.”
Meara also said that he worked with two local goaltenders to train, University of Albany junior goalie Micheal Kennedy, and New York Red Bulls academy goalie, Kieran Dalton.
One advantage that could make some MLS teams more comfortable at the ESPN Wide World of Sports is the familiarity with the facilities. The New York Red Bulls, Columbus Crew, Montreal Impact, Orlando City, Philadelphia Union, Sporting Kansas City, and Toronto FC all participated in the “2014 Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic” there. About this, Meara spoke positively of the facilities saying that they are great.
As the ever evolving situation continues, Ryan Meara shed light on some of the advice that he has given teammates in the wake of the news that the Orlando Pride didn’t go to Utah for the National Women’s Soccer League tournament, which started on June 27, because of players for the Pride being infected with Covid as a result of going to bars and nightclubs.
Meara advised: “as bars and restaurants are opening up here in New York and New Jersey, try to be safe, don’t take any unnecessary risks and, you know, take every precaution you can take because that’s just how things are right now.”
In talking about the Orlando Pride story, Meara warned that if five or six players got sick the entire team would be punished and kicked out of the tournament, which has come to fruition in recent days as, on July 6, FC Dallas was removed from the MLS tournament and forced to leave Orlando. FC Dallas was removed as a result of positive tests for ten players and one coach.
While Orange County, Florida, has 14,677 confirmed Covid cases as of July 6, the MLS has still entered the bubble at the Walt Disney World properties, with Meara being confident that the league is properly protecting its players.
“I think we’re in good hands. We trust the league and the players association will make the right decision in terms of our safety,” he says.
Meara also says the he believes all of his teammates have decided to go down to Orlando and participate in the tournament.
The New York Red Bulls have been placed in group E, alongside Atlanta United, FC Cincinnati, and the Columbus Crew.