Ryan Meara has waited eight years to become the New York Red Bulls‘ No. 1 goalkeeper again. His wait was extended when he picked up a knock late in the preseason, and now that delay is indefinite due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The 29-year-old isn’t letting this latest wait get to him.
“Life throws you curveballs and I guess you just gotta roll with the punches,” he told Pro Soccer USA. “From a soccer standpoint, obviously it’s frustrating, everyone’s frustrated with all this and we’d much rather be playing our season right now. But in times like this, what we do is on such a minor scale as opposed to what what the country and the world is going through with this virus.”
Meara was the Red Bulls starter in 2012 after being selected in the second round of that year’s MLS SuperDraft. He played the first 18 games that year before suffering a hip injury that required surgery, prematurely ending his rookie season.
Luis Robles was acquired via the MLS allocation process that August and played in the final four games of the 2012 season. He was in goal for the next 179 games, an MLS-record Ironman streak that spanned 16,470 minutes.
Meara earned his first start when Robles suffered a knee injury in May 2018 and backstopped his team to a 3-1 win at Atlanta United. He made three more league starts since, but when Robles was signed by expansion side inter Miami CF in December, the door re-opened for Meara.
“I was very proud of the fact the couple times Luis went down in the last couple years I stepped in, helped the team win some games,” said Meara, who was the Red Bulls’ regular starter in the U.S. Open Cup. “It can be lonely, the life of a backup goalkeeper, but when you get your chance you have to play and play well.”
The longest-tenured Red Bulls player signed a new contract in late December and had a solid preseason. He had the inside track on the starting job when he raced off his line and slid into Sporting Kansas City’s Alan Pulido in the final preseason game.
Meara suffered a groin injury and new signing David Jensen got the nod in the club’s first two games of the 2020 regular season.
“This whole time, all these years, I’m dying to be the starter, to be the guy who plays every week. Obviously behind Luis that was tough because he was so consistent, so good over the years,” Meara said. “I’ll be honest, there were a couple of times throughout the years I tried to get a move out of here … But I ended up staying and I always just tried to have a good attitude while I was here and be a good teammate and train hard and train with the thought my chance is coming. It took longer than I would have liked, if I’m being honest.”
Meara trained fully before the Red Bulls last regular season game — a 1-1 draw at Real Salt Lake on March 7. But the decision was made to give him a few extra days to make sure the groin injury wouldn’t become a persistent problem.
So Meara eyed the Week 3 match at Minnesota United on March 15.
The good news is Meara is 100 percent healthy. The bad news is there’s no clear end to this stoppage.
“I’m good. They gave us a good workout program, and obviously we’re doing it all on our own, but we’re all keeping fit,” he said. “I feel 100 percent and just counting down the days until I can get back out there.”
Meara has kept himself busy, splitting his time between renovating his new house in Yonkers and re-watching “The Sopranos.”
“It never gets old though,” Meara said. “I’ve been cooking a little, which I don’t usually do. You’ve just got to make the most of it somehow and keep a good attitude because a lot of people have it worse than us. If you’re healthy, you’re doing alright.”
Meara has also continued to train with Roosevelt High School in Yonkers temporarily replacing the Red Bulls training complex.
“It’s funny because that’s where I used to train with my club team, Yonkers United, from probably 9-14 years old,” Meara said. “I went back there the other day, a brand new turf field — it’s beautiful. It was cool, I haven’t been out to that field in probably over 15 years.”
His hometown of Yonkers, full of Irish bars and restaurants, is usually buzzing this time of the year, especially on St. Patrick’s day. But COVID-19 has changed all that.
“It’s like a ghost town at night. It’s kind of eerie to see,” he said. “To see it kind of dead at night and there’s not any action — it’s good that people are listening to the warning and staying at home, it’s a good thing in the moment — but just to see that from a bigger perspective it definitely makes this whole thing feel very real.”
Meara’s family, including his 85-year-old grandfather who lives around the corner, is doing well. But many are in harms way. His father is a firefighter in the Bronx, his uncle is an FDNY chief in midtown Manhattan, his brother is a Yonkers police offer and his girlfriend is a nurse at NYU Langone Medical Center.
“A lot of people close to me are on the front line so anytime something like this happens, it’s worrying,” Meara said. “But I know they’re all prepared and ready to do what they have to do to step up and help others.”
The same was true during other catastrophes that affected New York, including the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
“The one thing they all have in common is, in a way, they brought everyone together in the city, the country, in the world,” Meara said. “It’s a common enemy that we’re all fighting. It’s been nice to see people really come together. In the worst of times, like this or 9/11 or Sandy, you really see the best of people.”
Missing his teammates
Meara has kept up with his teammates through texts that include “funny memes and stupid stuff back and forth to keep things light.” But he misses the everyday camaraderie in the locker room and on the training ground.
“Over the course of a season, you end up spending more time with them than you do with your family for the most part when you add up all the hours and trips and preseason and then the away trips during the year and the day-to-day training,” Meara said. “You develop these really close-knit bonds and relationships with these guys that, when something unforeseen like this happens, you worry and hope all of them are doing well and their families and loved ones because not only do you become close with them, you become close to their wives and girlfriends and kids and parents.
“Even though we’re not together I think the whole team element carries a lot of weight in times where we’re not in a locker and not playing together every day.”