The Red Bulls' rookie goalkeeper has already raised questions over an international future as he embarks on his maiden season in MLSEXCLUSIVE
By Seth Vertelney
A lot can change in only two months. Just ask New York Red Bulls rookie goalkeeper Ryan Meara.
In March, he was the untested second-round pick surprisingly named the starter for a team which experienced wholesale instability in the position the season before.
Two months later and he's the toast of the town, coming off three straight clean sheets, a leading contender for Rookie of the Year, and has already had to deal with his first international call-up drama.
It was only a fortnight ago that the Ireland under-21 manager Noel King claimed that Meara, eligible for the Boys in Green through his grandparents, would play for his team at the end of May in a friendly against Denmark before June's Uefa European Under-21 Championship qualifier against Italy.
Since then, the Red Bulls have put a damper on Ireland's hopes of capping the strapping goalkeeper with coach Hans Backe insisting that Meara would stay put to concentrate on his club football.
The player himself admits that focus on MLS remains his priority.
“Up until about a month ago when the whole Ireland thing came up, it's not even something I thought about,” Meara said about his international future.
“Right now our focus is on playing with the Red Bulls and winning games here."
For now, his international future is still in question and Meara has not yet decided whether or not to represent the land of his ancestors or Team USA.
"I think that's a bridge I'll cross if and when I ever get to it,” he said. “I think if you get too wrapped up in that stuff, you can lose focus on the here and now and I can't afford to have that.”
If many pundits and Red Bulls fans were surprised to see the 21-year-old from Fordham University starting in MLS on opening day, they weren't the only ones.
“Coming into preseason, I definitely wasn't expecting to come in and start right away,” Meara said.
After a season in which the Red Bulls started five different goalkeepers, including three with 10 or more starts, New York was expected to stabilize the position by bringing in a veteran keeper. The club was linked with several reinforcements during the preseason, but nothing materialised.
And Meara just kept on impressing.
“As pre-season went on and after a couple pre-season games, I realised that maybe there was a chance if I kept doing well, that starting spot could be mine,” he said.
“I knew there wasn't a clear-cut starter. There were rumours of bringing in a veteran guy to start but for me, my goal every day was to just come in and impress the staff and the guys around me and just work as hard as I could. I figured if I could do that, only good things could happen,” Meara added.
Eventually, Backe eschewed a veteran option in favor of the untested Meara and so far, his decision has paid off in spades. The rookie leads the league in saves, and has helped the team to three consecutive 1-0 victories en route to a 6-3-1 overall record. He has displayed impressive shot-stopping ability and a command of his box that belies his lack of experience.
When asked how he's experienced such immediate success, however, Meara didn't immediately credit any physical attributes that he may possess.
“It has to do with my demeanour,” he said. “I try not to let too much phase me whether I'm playing great or playing terribly. I think as a goalie, one of the most important things is always trying to stay on an even keel and not get too up or too down depending on how you're playing.”
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