Ryan Meara
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Ryan Meara could’ve been a starting keeper on most MLS teams, but chose to stay with the New York Red Bulls and might be overlooked again.

Onz Chery

New York Red Bulls gloveman Ryan Meara’s rookie season had “future star keeper” written all over it. With the rate at which the New York native started his professional career, he could’ve been one of the top keepers in the MLS year after year.

Meara additionally could’ve been capped by the United States national team. He could’ve even transferred to a team in Europe.

But he sacrificed all those possibilities to be his beloved hometown team’s second-choice keeper for seven years. And possibly, this coming season as well.

Of course, the 29-year-old was tempted to leave New York multiple times and join a team where he could start.

“It can be frustrating. The life of a backup goalkeeper can be a lonely one,” Meara told MLS reporter Sam Stejskal in 2018.

“And I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say there were times in the past couple offseasons where maybe I was looking to get a move out of here, just go somewhere where I had a better chance of playing. But I love the club. I love being a part of the Red Bulls.”

What helped Meara go though his long stretch of being a backup keeper? Telling himself that at the end of the day, a starter or not, he still had the glamorous job of being a professional soccer player.

“Anytime I’m having a down day or, I don’t know, feeling a little sorry for myself, I’m like ‘Man, I’m still playing soccer for a living.’ It could be a lot worse,” he said. “My parents worked so hard when I was growing up just for us to have enough.

“So I’m sure my dad would rather me playing soccer than being a fireman in the city for almost 40 years. That’s the kind of way I look at it, try to keep things in perspective.”

Meara was one of the most promising rookie keepers the MLS saw last decade. He was one of the leading candidates to win the Rookie of the Year Award in the first half of the 2012 season.

The former Fordham University keeper’s spectacular season was cut short on July 8, 2012, due to a season-ending hip injury.

This setback is what shattered Meara’s promising future. He was out for 319 days and missed about a season’s worth of games (33).

While the shot-stopper rehabbed, someone else began to make a name for himself in the Red Bulls net. That man was Luis Robles.

Although Meara played a remarkable rookie season before his injury, he didn’t receive the nod over Robles when healthy again. This was because Robles proved he was a talented keeper as well. In fact, he went on to become arguably the best goalie in Red Bulls history.

Meara waited six years before playing in a Red Bulls jersey in the MLS again, and the only reason why he finally did was due to a Robles injury.

Meara did play in other competitions though. He led RBNY’s second team to their first-ever USL title in 2016 before helping the first team reach the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final the following year.

The American proved he still had what it took to be a starter in the MLS. But looking at Robles’ performances, it wouldn’t have been fair to take him out of the starting lineup. Especially since he became their captain in 2018.

“Obviously, [Robles] was the guy in front of me for a good amount of years,” Meara said on New York Red Bulls Podcast: Kickin’ It. “I guess you can say he was standing in my way of being a No. 1 goalie.”

Despite that, the keeper highlighted that he and Robles had a healthy relationship. The club, surprisingly, didn’t renew Robles’ contract on Nov. 21. At first, it seemed like it was finally Meara’s time to become an MLS starter as he ought to be.

“I feel like I paid my dues behind Luis for all these years and now it’s my chance to step up,” the 29-year-old said.

But the club not extending Robles wasn’t so Meara could receive more playing time. Even though the New Yorker has proven time and time again that he can perform in the MLS, RBNY signed a keeper from Netherlands’ top division named David Jensen on Jan. 29.

Meara noted that it didn’t trouble him because he understands there’s always going to be a fight to become or remain a starter at the top level of the sporting world.

“It doesn’t phase me at all, we’ll welcome [Jensen] to the club,” he said.

“This is professional sports, so there’s going to be competition at every position, every year, no matter what team you’re on or what league you’re in.”

Jensen wasn’t a starter when he left his former team, F.C. Utrecht. Meara understands that this is his best chance to find himself back in RBNY’s starting XI since his rookie season.

“This is the biggest opportunity I’ve had, you know, since my rookie year really,” the keeper said. “So I’m going to put every single thing I have into it and make the most of the opportunity. Just work my butt off, do the right thing on and off the field.”

He had previously stated, “Obviously, I want to be the guy that starts on March 1st.”

Perhaps, Meara’s love for New York will finally see a full reward and he’ll be a starter again. Or perhaps not, and the sacrifice will continue.

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