MetroStars bring Meola into the fold

Even though he's been training with them for the past four days, Tony Meola's return to the MetroStars was made official Thursday when the club picked up the former World Cup goalkeeper off waivers.

But it's more than a homecoming for Meola, who is from Kearny, N.J. and played for the MetroStars from 1996-98. He said he has a mission.

"I'm excited. It's where I started, it's where I always dreamt of playing when I was a kid. It's always fun playing here," Meola said of Giants Stadium. "(My return) is a failure if I don't win a championship with the MetroStars."

Meola has won a championship before -- with Kansas City in 2000. There's very little he hasn't accomplished in soccer, having been a part of three World Cup teams, including starting in the 1990 and 1994 World Cups and has more caps (99) than any other U.S. goalkeeper. He is a five-time MLS All-Star and ranks first in league history in shutouts (48), minutes played (17,516), games played (194) and saves (886).

To make room for Meola, the MetroStars are expected to announce a trade sending Jonny Walker to the Columbus Crew on Thursday evening.

Meola was waived by Kansas City, where he played from 1999 until 2004, on March 2. The Wizards declined their right of first refusal on Meola and he was then placed on waivers last Tuesday and made available to all teams.

"We're bringing in a three-time World Cup veteran, an MLS champion, a league MVP, an American soccer legend and a local soccer legend," said Alexi Lalas, MetroStars president and general manager. "But I think Tony realizes, and [MetroStars head coach] Bob [Bradley] and myself made it very clear, that after all the handshakes, the hugs and the kisses are over with, we have a job to do ... we're here to win a championship."

And, at least for now, Meola's job is to back up second-year 'keeper Zach Wells, who has played every minute of the MetroStars' first 14 games this year. That's the role he will play Monday, when the Metros return to the field to face Real Salt Lake because third-string 'keeper Mike Ueltschey suffered a broken finger in Monday's friendly against the Rochester Rhinos.

Meola, who has been training with the Metros for the past four days in anticipation of being picked up by the club, said he is about "85-90 percent" healthy following Achilles tendon surgery in January. He said he should be 100 percent in about a month.

"If I had to play tomorrow, I think I could," he said. "Soccer-wise, I'm a bit ahead of schedule but fitness, I still need to have more fitness. But it's what I expected, being off for six months."

It's a different locker room Meola walked into this week as compared to the one he left in 1998. While he says the talent might have been better then, there appears to be more of camaraderie on this MetroStars club. He said the '97 team had "22 different guys that were going in 22 different directions."

"My first impression is that this is a young team. It's something that Bob and Alexi told me but I didn't realize how young until I walked into the locker room," Meola said. "I think with Ante (Razov), (Jeff Agoos) and Youri (Djorakeff), we've added a bit of experience ... (The team) seems to be pretty close."

And as for his expectations, Meola didn't mince words.

"I accept whatever role I have," he said. "But I expect to be a starter one day."

Dylan Butler is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.

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