Former and current goalkeepers Tony Meola and Tim Howard discuss their work with Allstate, the MLS Cup, and the state of the league itself in exclusive interviews with Goal.com.We’ve all watched MLS and U.S. men's national team games and seen the commercials of U.S. national team goalkeeper Tim Howard musing in front of goal about topics ranging from flowing locks, to "boranging" all the way to the stadium.
However, these commercials are only the surface of the partnership that the Allstate insurance company brings to MLS and the U.S men's national team.
Ahead of the MLS Cup held in Los Angeles, former New York Red Bulls and U.S. men's national team goalkeeper Tony Meola, along with Allstate, hosted and ran a surprise clinic for inner city children. Meola explained in an exclusive interview with Goal.com that they do a "community event on all of our stops" with Los Angeles being the last of them.
This time the kids "really don’t know what’s in store…by the end of the night they receive a ton of gear donated by Allstate and tickets to the MLS Cup Final," Meola said, adding, that the reactions that these kids have in finding this out are "the best part of the night."
Beyond this clinic, Meola and Allstate were also at the Home Depot Center for the final itself, holding it down in the MLS fan zone running a charity event. They "have a green screen set up and kids can dive after a ball into a foam pit and Allstate agrees to donate $50 per dive for every person that agrees to participate," Meola explained the Friday before the event.
The money is donated to LA Scores, a local urban youth program that combines literacy and soccer involving both kids and local teachers.
With the action picture that kids get from the foam pit dive, they also get a Twitter and Facebook link so they can post it through social media as well. This has been one way that the good hands group has been trying to be innovative in leveraging the online tool.
"They’ve used it to make progress, to help create change and create awareness for a lot of different causes,” said Howard, who also has considered using Twitter himself, but is "just trying to find the right way to use it before I dive in the deep end."
From the playoff format down to the youth academies for each of the teams, the two goalkeepers had their own views on various talking points that are at the forefront of the U.S. game today.
"As Americans we love a playoff, American sports fans love the last seed upsetting the top seed. You always will need an element of a playoff system, as long as you’re in America," Howard said, weighing in on MLS' playoff system. "When you don’t have relegation and promotion it’s hard to do an outright champion, there needs to be a little bit of leverage and a little bit of pressure."
A topic on which both goalkeepers shared strong opinions was the youth level of the game, specifically the interaction between the MLS academies and high schools and universities.
"The college system in America works, it’s a very good system," Howard claimed. "Right now the best way to access the MLS is college. The sooner the academy numbers start to grow in the first and senior teams, that then becomes a viable option and people will look towards that to kickstart their professional career."
Meola wet on to reiterate about the academies that,"the one thing that we’ve always said is that these kids are going to get better when they’re competing every day with better players, and that’s what the academy system has allowed them to do."
Howard argued that the academies benefited all parties involved, from the teams to the children and parents, saying, "the more players you get into the league through the academy system and the more valuable it seems to young players and their parents, the better and bigger it will get."
Meola did express some concern with regard to the academies' provision that young players do't play for their high school teams.
'One of the issues is the academies that don"t allow their kids to play in high school," the World Cup veteran explained. "I don’t think for one minute that high school is going to make them the player they’re going to be, nor do I think it will hurt them at all."
He feels that the academies remove kids from the social aspect of being in high school and that, "you miss something when you’re not involved at all in your high school sports."
Meola had another concern as well. As a dual athlete in college, Meola played Division I baseball at the University of Virginia before he ever played a game of soccer under then coach Bruce Arena. He was also captain of his high school's basketball team.
"I attribute my goalkeeping skills more to the fact that I’ve played basketball my whole life”, Meola argued.
He added that he doesn’t think it’s the right decision to make kids focus on one sport singularly, saying, "I think that’s the reason why we’ve got so many great athletes in this country."
Howard, with his appearance in the U.S. men's national team's 3-2 win over Slovenia, has edged ahead of Meola in all-time wins for the national team and, though interviewed separately, both shared a lot of ideas about the current game, where it was, and where it's headed and it is important that current and former players remain involved in that development.
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Jon Howard is a contributor to Goal.com's "Business Off The Pitch" column. Contact Jon Howard at email@example.com with questions, comments and concerns or follow him on