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Archive for Sunday, May 9, 2004

Meola: Europe not ‘end-all’

Goalkeeper could play abroad, but prefers staying in United States

May 9, 2004

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— Tony Meola played in two soccer World Cups, kicked in several exhibition games for the New York Jets and was drafted by the New York Yankees as a catcher.

He also has acted off-Broadway and is a drummer in a rock band.

One thing, though, is missing from the resume of the 35-year-old Kansas City Wizards goalkeeper: a stint in one of the top four European soccer leagues.

Meola's response? A shrug and a sardonic smile.

"Every time I read, 'That's the one thing he hasn't conquered,' I have to laugh to myself," he said this week. "If I wanted to conquer it, believe me, I'd have conquered it."

In the early '90s, Meola played in an English division that now would be one step below the Premier League. After his work permit ran out in England, he spent three months with Toulouse in France's top division.

But the headache of European work rules and the chance for more money and stability in the United States have kept him home.

"It's not an ego thing for me," he said. "You guys -- and when I say 'you guys,' I mean the media -- you look at Europe as the end-all. I don't see it that way. I never have."

Meola, a New Jersey native, started his Major League Soccer career in 1996 with the MetroStars in his home state. He was traded in 1999 to Kansas City, where he and his wife, Colleen, have put down roots and wouldn't mind staying.

"My plan is to stay here and let my kids grow up in the Midwest," said Meola, a father of three. "We love the schools and we love where we are."

At his age, that might seem the logical choice. But his MLS contract ends after this season, and he hasn't yet been offered an extension. So he's keeping his options open -- and Europe is on the list.

The English Premier League, Italy's Serie A, the German Bundesliga and Spain's La Liga generally are considered the top four.

Meola, who played for Brighton and Watford in the former English Second Division, is getting an Italian passport, which would allow him to play anywhere in the European Union.

"I don't want to leave," he said. "There's not one bit of me that wants to leave. But I'm also a guy who wants some security. I have a history of that over my career. I've taken less (money) to be secure."

Meola has certainly given the Wizards reason to keep him.

Through Kansas City's first four games, he gave up just one goal and extended his MLS shutout record to 51. Even early in the season, that invites comparison to Meola's best year ever.

In 2000, after missing all but nine games of the 1999 season because of a knee injury, he set a league record with 16 shutouts in 31 regular-season games. The Wizards won their only MLS Cup -- also a shutout, 1-0 over Chicago -- and Meola was the first keeper chosen as the league's most valuable player.

"In 2000, what Tony did was set a standard for our league that could be there for quite some time," said Wizards coach Bob Gansler, who also coached Meola on the 1990 World Cup team. "I don't think anyone has come close to it, and that includes him."

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