Tony Meola : National Treasure
Tony Meola became a national treasure in 1994 when the U.S. hosted their first World Cup. The goalie from New Jersey was a star that summer and after the Cup, his career went in every direction possible.
From playing soccer, kicking for the New York Jets, to acting on off-Broadway, to coaching and commentating, Tony Meola’s wild career is one of ambition, risk, and passion.
While strange, you have to give the man credit for everything he has set out to accomplish.
While attending Kearny High School in Jersey, the Garden State resident was a Varsity sportsman in baseball, football, and soccer. His skills on the field in almost all of the sports he played caught the attention of many high profile teams and agents.
In 1987, the New York Yankees drafted him and right out of high school he played for their farm system. A year with the Yankees youth teams, he then went to college on a soccer and baseball scholarship with University of Virginia where he would play for Bruce Arena.
In college, the young Italian-American impressed many including teams from overseas like Watford and Brighton Hove & Albion which recruited him for his shot stopping skills.
By the time the World Cup rolled around, Meola was playing indoor soccer for Buffalo Blizzard and then his whole life changed.
Tony Meola is The Big Show
Thanks to his big build, boyish good looks and charm, and not to mention his incredible skill — Tony Meola became a hero for the USMNT in the summer of 1994. The athlete, who stunned the state of New Jersey, University of Virginia, and lower level British clubs, was making his mark for his country.
The beauty of the World Cup is that an unknown player can become a hero in just a month. Toto Schillaci did it for Italy in 1990; Guillermo Ochoa did it for Mexico as did Keylor Navas for Costa Rica in 2014.
Meola would add his name to that impressive list.
“Dino Zoff, growing up, was the guy I looked up to. The 1982 World Cup, the US weren’t there and given my background, my parents were both born and raised in Italy, Italy was the team I cheered for. Dino was a major part of that World Cup victory,” Tony Meola told the Telegraph in 2015.
He added: “Eventually when I was a young player I had the opportunity to play against Juventus when [Zoff] was coaching there – with [Toto] Schillaci in that team. We played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. It was an honor to meet him and somewhere in some boxes I have, I have some really neat pictures of him. That was a huge thrill.”
Though the USMNT failed to really make any impact while hosting the games, they did create their first homegrown legend in a generation. Meola would go on to have 100 caps in net for the Men’s team through his international career.
The Wild, The Innocent, and the Strange Street Shuffle
Following the World Cup, many would have expected Meola to sign a big contract with a name football club somewhere in Europe. Instead, he signed with the New York Jets – as in American football.
Tony Meola was brought on as a placekicker and earned the nickname “Captain Hook” because his balls would go in all sorts of bending directions instead of where they should. His stint with Gang Green didn’t last long, after three preseason games he failed to impress the fans, management and team and was cut.
The keeper then signed with minor league soccer club Long Island Ruff Riders and was also running his own mortgage firm, drumming in a Jersey cover band called Mushmouth, as well as acting in the off-Broadway play Tony and Tina’s Wedding. Like Kanye West – who can rap, produce, design fashion, and direct – Meola was doing it all.
Meola was literally all over the tri-state area jamming in Jersey, playing soccer on Long Island, acting in Manhattan, and holding down a day job in his home state. Making the occasional TV appearance to promote whatever he was doing, Meola was still in the spotlight.
Then in 1996, America got their first soccer league as MLS was created. Meola became the shot-stopper for the New York Metrostars (now Red Bulls). He stayed in the MLS for a decade playing also for the Kansas City Wizards and eventually finished his major league career as a Red Bull.
In 2007, he signed on to play for the New Jersey Ironmen indoor soccer team that led him to retirement a year later.
Tougher Than the Rest
Following his retirement from the game, Meola has not kept a low profile. The father of three went into the television world where he works as a pundit and talking head calling games including the YES Network where he is a contributor during NYCFC matches.
Meola was also called by the USMNT prior to Jurgen Klinsmann where he worked as a goalkeeper coach. From then, he went to other clubs as a goalkeeper coach helping players develop. However, Meola didn’t want to just be a face on the sideline and went through all the manager courses for a crack at overseeing his own team.
In November 2015, he signed on as manager of NASL side Jacksonville Armada. Things didn’t pan out. He lasted nine months and was sacked in August 2016.
He currently hosts his own soccer show on SiriusXM.
While it is unknown what the future holds for Meola, one thing is for sure, he will work his ass off to get it.