Red Bulls goalkeeper Meara inches closer to starting role

PHOENIX — The looming question for the New York Red Bulls this preseason has been: Who will be the number one goalkeeper?

Rookie Ryan Meara’s performance in Thursday’s 0-0 draw with Pumas UNAM provided a very solid answer. His spectacular play to keep the clean sheet against the Mexican side’s relentless attack put him in pole position to be the starter when the Red Bulls open the season on Sunday, March 11, at FC Dallas (3 pm ET, NBC Sports).

“Meara is doing well,” manager Hans Backe told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “He had two big saves today. He looked calm, no stress.”

In the first half, especially, Meara made two vital saves to keep Pumas off the board. In the 24th minute, he got a foot to Juan Carlos Cacho’s shot on a breakaway, and in the 28th, he rushed out to disrupt Martin Bravo enough to force Bravo’s flick up and over the bar. They were big-time stops from a player still very new to the big time.

“This was the first time I’ve played in a stadium with an atmosphere like this,” Meara told MLSsoccer.com. “I was definitely a little bit nervous beforehand, but once the game starts, it’s just a game. To go out and play a game like this and keep a clean sheet, it definitely builds confidence going forward.”

Backe wouldn’t go so far as to officially name Meara his starter — “It’s a little bit too early” — and he cited the equally impressive play of the other young goalkeeper in camp, Jeremy Vuolo. Vuolo had a strong performance in Wednesday night’s 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake in the Desert Diamond Cup.

“The way Ryan is playing now, I would probably be comfortable with him starting,” Backe admitted. “But I have no problem to see Ryan or Jeremy be a starter, the way they have performed so far.”

The New York Red Bulls open the 2012 season away to FC Dallas on Sunday, March 11. Watch live on NBC Sports. CLICK HERE to get tickets.