Stejskal: After six years, Ryan Meara relishing starting chance for RBNY

Ryan Meara - Rolls Ball - US Open Cup Final 2017

Ryan Meara always believed he’d get his shot. But as the weeks after his last MLS start turned into months, as the months turned into years, doubt began to creep up on the goalkeeper.

Would he ever get a shot to start another regular season game for the New York Red Bulls? Would Luis Robles’ record run of consecutive league appearances ever come to an end? Would he have to leave his hometown club to get a real shot at a starting job?

“It can be frustrating,” Meara told over the phone earlier this week. “The life of a backup goalkeeper can be a lonely one, 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.”

Last Sunday, Meara’s patience finally paid off. With Robles ruled out due to a knee injury that ended his streak of 183 consecutive matches in net for New York, Meara got the nod for the Red Bulls’ marquee match at Atlanta. The 27-year-old came through with a big performance, diving to stop an early one-on-one with Miguel Almiron, stoning Josef Martinez on a breakaway a couple of minutes later and ending New York’s 3-1 win with six saves.

It was his first regular season start for New York since he began his rookie year in 2012 with 18 straight appearances, and his first MLS game since 2015, when he appeared in one regular season contest while on a season-long loan to New York City FC. He helped New York Red Bulls II to the USL Cup title in 2016 and started during New York’s run to the 2017 US Open Cup final, but the long MLS layoff took a toll on Meara.

That just made Sunday night a little bit sweeter, though.

“There’s no doubt about it, it’s difficult,” he said. “I think I’m a pretty competitive guy and I have faith in my ability that I can be a starter in this league. Having a taste of it my rookie year, knowing what it feels like to be the guy, it’s not easy sitting on the bench, but Luis is so good, he’s been so consistent every game for the past couple years.

“Being behind him, it’s tough for me, but at the same time I was always confident that I would get my chance at some point. And when the chance does come, you’ve got to be ready for it, so I try to train ever week like I am playing on the weekend…. So, to kind of put it all together and have a good performance on Sunday night was great for me personally and obviously a huge win for the team.”

With Robles “week-to-week” with his knee injury, Meara will likely get some more chances in league play over the Red Bulls’ next few matches. Open Cup starts soon, too, giving the New York City-area native an opportunity for his busiest run of first-team matches since he was a rookie six years ago.

He’s excited by the prospect, but he knows it’ll likely be fleeting. Robles will likely reclaim the top spot once he’s healthy, relegating Meara, who is trying to savor his current run, to the bench once more.  

“Just kind of day by day, to tell you the truth. I’m not looking too far forward, just kind of enjoying the moment, enjoying getting a couple of games. We’ve got Open Cup starting in a week or two, it’s a busy time of the year and so I’m just kind of taking it one day at a time, one game at a time. I just want to put my best foot forward.”