Born: February 21, 1969
Town: Kearny, New Jersey
It’s been more than 20 years since you first suited up for Team USA. What’s the biggest difference in American soccer then and now?
TONY MEOLA: The player pool is much deeper. The players in this country are developing so rapidly. I was lucky as a kid. All the way through, I had coaches who had played soccer at a high level. That wasn’t the case in the towns around me, where a lot of moms and dads were coaching. They were fulfilling an important need, but they just didn’t have the soccer background. Now, you have rec-league coaches who played at a decent level in college. That was never the case when I was a kid.
What’s the biggest adjustment you had to make as a goalie in indoor soccer?
TM: In the outdoor game, when the ball goes wide of the goal, the goalie can relax and catch his breath. That’s not the case in indoor soccer. There are all those rebounds. There is so much mayhem in front of the goalie, and so many bodies banging around. It can get a little exhausting. Thank God for the television timeouts.
You had 16 shutouts one year in Major League Soccer. In indoor soccer, a team can score 16 points in a game on garbage goals. How do you deal with that?
TM: A goalie can’t have an ego in indoors. There are so many junk goals. You try to justify it when you go home at night, but it’s tough. I’m learning a little more with each game, but so far I’ve gotten by mostly on instinct and athletic ability.
Okay, now the important questions. You were the Major League Soccer MVP in 2000 with the Kansas City Wizards. Give me three differences between Kansas City and New Jersey.
TM: Barbecue. It’s much better in Kansas City. Bread. Much better in Jersey. Kansas City roads all go in a circle. Jersey roads go straight.
Favorite restaurant in South Jersey?
TM: Hemingway’s in Seaside.
Favorite restaurant in Newark?
TM: Spain was my favorite when I was in high school. You could feed two people on an appetizer. We ordered the garlic shrimp like it was going out of style.
You have your own entree at Dario’s, just a few steps away from The Rock.
TM: Yeah, it’s the Tony Meola. It’s on the take-out menu. Chicken, rice, vegetables. The sauce is a secret—Dario won’t even tell me what’s in it.
All three of your kids play soccer. Your eldest is 14. Who was better at 14, you or him?
TM: He’s far better than I was, and in much better shape. He’s off to a lot better start than his old man.
You coached his Red Bull Under-12 team. How did the fatherly advice thing working out?
TM: Well, you try to, but he’s like every other kid—he doesn’t listen to what dad says. I tell the assistant coach to tell him what to do, because he’ll listen to the assistant coach.
What's the second-best soccer town in New Jersey?
TM: It kills me to say it, but Harrison for sure—our arch-rivals. They’ve done a really good job. They’ve got a couple of coaches from Kearney and they’ve won a couple of state championships. Hey, they were smart enough to know that when they had to get over the hump it was time to put some Kearney guys in there!