Tony Meola will forever be linked with the USMNT and World Cup soccer. Maybe the most visible face of the 1994 US World Cup team, Meola reached worldwide fame with his distinctive ponytail and great saves at the tournament.
When it was all said and done, Meola built a career anyone would be proud of, capped 100 times by the USMNT, a part of three World Cup squads, and being one of the first players to sign with Major League Soccer, Meola’s career from age 26 onward was indicative of the great goalkeeper he was at the international level.
After he took off his gloves, Meola would dabble in coaching for only one season with Jacksonville Armada, but mainly has been a game analyst on Fox Sports and now on Apple TV’s MLS League Pass. Meola, like the players of his generation have always spoken his mind, and that was no different when he took the time to chat with Bolavip.
Bolavip: You recently were announced as one of the new broadcasting crews of MLS Apple TV, how did that come about? What are your feelings about the whole project?
Tony Meola: Yeah, I think (MLS) was doing the announcements in stages, I don’t think they were going to announce everything at one time. Some guys were still working out details in their contracts, I’ve known for a little while, I was at Fox for five and a half years, I did the World Cup in 2018 and worked the last three years for the Chicago Fire, am happy to be included, I think it’s a cool undertaking.
I know the people already onboard for MLS Season Pass love it, I’ve been addicted to it for four or five days and quite honestly, I have been around since 1996 so I know a lot of the stories, but it’s been pretty cool to go back and relive them. I think the coolest part (about MLS Season Pass) is the way that their filming matches and the quality of the production.
I think it will take a little bit of time to hear different voices on what would have been home game broadcasts, but I think overall when you really look at it, the quality will just get better and better.
BV: The MLS League Pass is interesting because it’s a worldwide platform, tailor-made for that, will it be a smooth transition from linear broadcasting to Apple TV?
TM: Yeah, in a way you’re married now to the biggest brand in the world, one of the most profitable companies in the world. I met a gentleman during our broadcasting training last week that started at Apple 34 years ago when they were about to go bankrupt, just to think that (MLS) is on the frontend of something like this in the sports world is really really cool.
I’ve been a part of this business for 11 years. I am really proud to be a part of this project. I have stayed in it because the people I have worked with are incredible. Now (Apple TV and MLS) are building something from the ground up essentially, there are great people in front of the camera but also behind the camera, and in the end the goal is for the viewer to have a good experience.
BV: You mentioned your year in coaching, is that something you think you will give another shot to?
TM: Well I had three opportunities and none of them really were the right situation. One literally I was two minutes away from signing a contract and my gut told me it wasn’t the right thing and as it turned out a year later it wasn’t the right thing, it would have been disastrous the way things turned out with that particular club.
I think about it all the time, I had a fulfillment with US Soccer, I was an assistant coach on youth national teams when Tab Ramos was there. The beauty of that was that I did it on my own dime and I loved every single minute of it. I thought it would turn into getting a youth national team job of course everything changed when the new regime got there. To be quite honest all of Tab’s guys were out. That was a moment to sit back and say, “you know what let me stick here with television and radio”. I miss coaching those age groups for sure, I think I have something to offer still in the game just don’t know where or when it’s gonna be.
I have a lot of good friends in TV, I love what am doing now and there is definitely a chance in this industry to continue to grow and give back to the game and part a little bit of knowledge and I hope people look at it that way. The presentation of our game must always evolve just like the development of players in our game.
USMNT coaching search
BV: I have interviewed various members of your generation of USMNT players, and while many of that group have gotten into media, what is surprising is how few of you are coaching within US Soccer. Eric Wynalda told me that your group were “rebellious”, what do you think of the lack of opportunities for your generation of US Soccer players?
TM: When Tab was there one of the initiatives was that he wanted as many ex-national team players there as possible to be around the current youth national team players. He thought it was important, when the team was in World Cups or World Cup qualifying you walk into his eating rooms or hotels they were staying at, Tab had pictures of everybody he could get on a wall from the national team.
It was done so the players could know so and so played in two World Cups, (Tab Ramos) wanted the stories to be told for these kids, in my experience while I was there, I can’t tell you how many questions I answered about World Cups or how many times we sat in a lobby before the team was going to dinner and a kid would say, “hey coach, what was it like in the stadiums in 1994?” or “what was it like playing against Brazil?” all those conversations were going on.
I don’t mean any disrespect for anybody that’s there now, but if you look around youth national team programs around the world, the best countries in the world, those teams are littered with guys who have been at World Cups where all of these kids are trying to go.
As good as the (coaches) are that are currently there, I think we are missing out on such a big piece of the puzzle, and part of it quite honestly is that when you ask people to move to a city to do this job you eliminate 95% of your candidates. Because they won’t do it for the money or the cost of moving a family, or living there when you are going to be on the road all the time.
Coaches don’t want to sit in a room and talk, coaches want to scout players go see games live, they want to be in camp, and when Tab was there, we had this summit camp in January where all of the national teams got together at the same place. We’d have information sharing at night, see how the other coaches work, talk to each other about a player, going to watch different coaches implement theories their way. You learn more that way than you ever can sitting in an office together.
US Soccer is so reluctant to change one thing and it makes zero sense to me.
BV: Along those lines Tony, we are only three years away from the next World Cup, the federation currently has no national team coach, no one in charge to pick that coach, what is your opinion as to where the program is at?
TM: Overall picture it’s not a great place to be in, they can sell me on the clean slate all they want, we don’t have a national team coach. We just had a January camp, which we all know is not the most important camp, we got Nations League coming up and we have games coming up and we really can’t lose time anymore.
It looks like we are going to lose probably around nine months, where we don’t have a coach scouting the players that he wants, when he gets those players having conversations as to how he wants those players to play or do things at their clubs.
(US Soccer) basically is having to start from zero and that’s why I think they are going to need to go within (MLS) because minimum that person understand the mentality of how things are done here, they are a little bit different or if not from the US that person will need a bunch of those people by his side.
Whoever it is it will take that person at least four of five months to start to figure it all out, that’s why I think our saving grace is that we are already qualified. We are in the most important five years in the history of our sport, outside of the 1990 campaign, this is it right here and we have to get it right and we are wasting time right now.
BV: In a strange way given where our current national teamers play in Europe and the kind of clubs they are at, has the professional soccer player in the US outgrown the Federation who still seems to run like a mom and pop shop in some aspects?
TM: Am going to talk about what you said earlier about our generation, where Eric said we were “rebellious”, maybe we weren’t rebels per say but we asked a lot of questions. My group of players were the first true group of guys to go to Europe and see how things were like, when we’d come back, we’d all say, “we can make this better or that better”, and US Soccer would say, “no we’re going to do it this way.”
Now you have hundreds of guys going over and they simply don’t come back anymore. They're staying over there, and I think the federation for all the good that it’s done has missed out on opportunities to get better.
I just feel that we can get better in so many areas, I do think our sporting director has to be someone with real soccer knowledge. If we bring in another general manager, it has to be again an ex-player because he is talking to clubs or dual nationals.
Still in the process there are so many people who have been shut out I hope that a minimum that JT Batson puts a committee of people together that have all been around the program for a long time and says, “okay let’s lock the door for a couple of days and let’s lay it all on the table”. I think after a couple of days he’d be shocked that people have been shut out of having anything to do with helping that program grow.
We’ve been leaders in a lot of areas on the business side, but we really need to lead on the field.
BV: If it was up to you, what kind of coach would you like to see come in both domestic and international? Who should be interviewed for the position?
TM: Here is the list of guys I think need to be interviewed for the job, I would say Tab Ramos, not because he’s my friend, it’s because all the current crop of players came up through the system with Tab Ramos.
Tab was able to get to three quarter finals at three youth World Cups with these players. I would interview Jim Curtin to see what he has to say, I’d interview Jesse Marsch to see what he has to say.
Peter Vermes I’d interview in a heartbeat, and they already had conversations with him before, but he didn’t want the job because of how disorganized the federation was at the time (after failing to qualify in 2018).
Mourinho is a name that came up, but the only drawback is has Mourinho really had teams that have had a lot of young players? Is he a young player guy? Cause he is going to have a lot of young players with this next group.
People bring up Marcelo Bielsa, my only fear with Bielsa is what has he won lately? I know that is an unpopular opinion when you talk about him but that’s the reality. The thing is him and Jesse, coaches that want to press you need a lot of time to implement those tactics. National teams you don’t have time.
National team managers need to be able to pick the best players in form and play that competition. I think sometimes people get married to some guys because of something they did years ago and that is not a national team.
MLS in 2023
BV: To finish up, what predictions do you have for MLS in 2023?
TM: In the West LAFC will look different but they will be good, they will be at the top of the conference. I think the Portland Timbers once they get healthy, they will have a good season. I don’t see Gio Savarese missing out on the playoffs twice with that group, but then again, they need to stay healthy.
In the East, Philadelphia Union will be at the top for sure, NYCFC is an interesting one with some changes in that group, Columbus Crew is another one, they have a good team, got a new manager. Can Inter Miami get Josef Martínez to score goals again? I think those are the teams that will be in the running this season.