Ryan Meara is heading into the new MLS season as the starting New York Red Bulls goalkeeper for the first time in eight years. It is an opportunity that he has long wanted and waited for.
Had things played out a bit differently, however, the chance probably would have never come.
The Red Bulls are set to make a significant change at goalkeeper in 2020 after close to a decade of familiarity. Gone is team captain and ironman Luis Robles, and in his place in between the pipes will stand long-time deputy Meara. The 29-year-old netminder is set to become the permanent starter for the first time since his rookie campaign in 2012, a development that would not have happened had Meara’s patience not won out.
“If I’m being honest, definitely,” Meara told SBI when asked if he considered a move elsewhere at any point. “As a player, our careers are only so long and you don’t ever want to feel like you’re waisting any years because your career is done in a blink of an eye. I would try — between myself and my agent — to test the waters in the offseason and if anything better was out there, it was always something that I’d be interested in.
“But at the end of the day, everything happens for a reason. Going on my ninth year here with the Red Bulls, I couldn’t be happier. Being at home and close to my family and friends and now to get the chance to be the guy again, the No. 1, it’s something that really means a lot to me.”
Meara, who is nursing a knock currently, admittedly felt discouragement and disappointment at different points during the past seven seasons about being on the outside looking in. Who could blame him?
The New York native came out of the professional gates flying, earning the starting spot right away during his rookie season in 2012 and performing well for the Red Bulls up until injuries derailed him halfway through. Robles then arrived onto the scene shortly thereafter, became the incumbent, and never looked back.
Now with Robles off to David Beckham’s team at Inter Miami, Meara is finally going to get a chance again to step in at goal and remind everyone how good he can be. It is an opportunity Meara is extremely excited for — especially since he has played in just five league games since 2013 — and one he thought he might eventually get if he kept his head down and continued to train hard.
“Obviously as good as Luis has been, I knew he’s not getting any younger so at some point my hope was that they would hand things over to me,” said Meara. “That happened and me and Luis have had such a great relationship on and off the field, and he’s such a role model. I’m not necessarily trying to fill his shoes — I want to be my own goalkeeper — but I think I learned a lot from him on and off the field.
“I think working with him every day for the past six, seven, eight years has got me ready for this point where I’m at today.”
Considered by many around the league to be one of the top backups, Meara likely could have made a move elsewhere at some point. He joined New York City FC in 2015 on a loan, but probably could have found something more permanent given his talent and long-standing situation as the Red Bulls’ No. 2.
What helped keep Meara from leaving, however, was an admitted desire to be home as well as the value that the Red Bulls had in him.
“We have always seen Ryan as a No. 1,” said Red Bulls head coach Chris Armas. “We’ve always seen him as a No. 1.”
Added Meara: “I think any interest that came across Red Bulls’ table, they through pretty highly of me and didn’t necessarily want to give me away for nothing so that was always nice. It’s good to be wanted, especially in this industry that we’re in.”
Meara will have serious competition in 2020, though. One of the Red Bulls’ few transactions this offseason was signing David Jensen, a 27-year-old Danish goalkeeper that last played for FC Utrecht in the Netherlands.
While the Red Bulls clearly needed to add depth behind Meara, what made the acquisition curious was that the Red Bulls went overseas to find it. MLS teams typically go American when it comes to reserve netminders, but the Red Bulls chose a different path.
Regardless, Meara was unfazed by that.
“When it comes to us signing another ‘keeper, all along I knew we’d sign someone. They were pretty open with me about that,” said Meara. “You’ve got to have two to three guys that you trust. That doesn’t change anything for me. It might sound boring or like a cliche answer, I just worry about myself and what I can control.”
Meara insists that on the whole his approach to this season has not changed at all from the previous years. He might be the Red Bulls’ starter now, but that is not altering how he mentally prepares or goes about doing his work every day.
Sure, there is excitement — especially since his friends plan to start up tailgates again before watching him play at Red Bull Arena — but there is also an understanding and appreciation for the opportunity he is getting.
Meara knows all too well how difficult it is to get chances like this, and he wants to make the most of it.
“For me personally, I want to play every game. I want to play at a high level,” said Meara. “I want to be the guy here for this year and many years to come.”