Meara Capitalizes on His Moment

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By BRIAN TRUSDELL

Open Cup logoHARRISON, N.J. – On a night when Ryan Meara could have sulked, he shined.

Earlier Wednesday, the New York Red Bulls announced that they had signed Luis Robles to a new multi-year contract. Meara, 26, who became the team’s starting goalkeeper when he was drafted 31st over all out of Fordham in 2012, has seen scarce time in the net since a hip injury and the arrival of Robles late that year.

Robles has gone on to accumulate a Major League Soccer record 157-consecutive appearances; Meara has played in one MLS game since – and that on loan with rival New York City FC.

Yet when called on Wednesday night in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 against Philadelphia, Meara appeared as a seasoned veteran: diving, sliding, leaping to knock away shots, including one to thwart Fabrice-Jean Picault in a penalty kick shootout that enabled the Red Bulls to prevail, 5-3, after a 1-1 draw.

“Ryan is the man of the match,” New York defender Damien Perrinelle said. “He made some crazy saves. Not only in the PKs, but throughout the game.”

Besides his one-game appearance while on loan to NYC in 2015, Meara has been relegated to friendlies, CONCACAF Champions League and the U.S. Open Cup game – along with stints in the MLS Reserve League and the United Soccer League. Wednesday night’s game was only his ninth competitive match with the Red Bulls in five years.

He faced 27 shots, 8 of them on target. Many of his saves were of the dramatic variety, like denying Picault twice in the 18th minute, first on a breakaway with his legs than leaping to tip a header that first deflected off Perrinelle.

He denied Picault in the second half on a rip from 25 yards, dived to push C.J. Sapong’s shot wide in injury time and then dived again to save a left-foot drive from Chris Pontius in the second extra time period.

The thought of his long hours sitting on the bench watching Robles didn’t have time to enter Meara’s mind, even when the game dragged into the shootout.

“You don’t really think about that stuff when the game gets going,” Meara said. “You’re in the moment, you’re in the zone.

“I’m a competitor, I want to play. I believe in my ability, I believe I can play in this league. Being behind Luis isn’t always easy. He’s an iron man. He hasn’t missed a game in four, five years now, it’s not easy. I start every week like I’m the guy who’s going to be playing on the weekend, so when a night like tonight does come, I just slide right in and I’m ready.”

Red Bulls Coach Jesse Marsch had nothing but accolades for Meara, who predates Marsch’s arrival at Red Bull Arena, and acknowledged the difficulties in not keeping Meara in Harrison especially when he sees Robles, 33, signing a new contract.

“Ryan, he’s known about it, but he could feel bad about it, being behind a guy he knows is going to be around and been a great player, but he’s such a team guy,” Marsch said. “That’s all you can say, he’s such a team guy. And then you talk about his talent. He’s a top 22 goalkeeper in this league, for me, no question.

“And it hasn’t always been easy to convince him that this is the right place for him, but USL was a good experience for him last year and every day in training we see how good he is.”