New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Ryan Meara was so obviously happy to step onto the field at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday night that head coach Mike Petke had to tell him to stop smiling and look more serious.
Meara, however, could not help himself. Not after completing a grueling 10-month rehabilitation process that represented the most trying times of his young career.
Nearly a year after suffering a hip injury that ended his promising rookie campaign, Meara made his Red Bulls return by starting between the pipes in the club’s 2-0 victory over Reading United in the US Open Cup. The lanky 22-year-old did not have to do all that much to post his first clean sheet since last May, but simply being on the field again was good enough for him.
“It felt great to get back out there. It’s been long enough watching from the sidelines,” Meara told reporters after New York's win, paced by second-half goals from Fabián Espíndola and Lloyd Sam. “It’s definitely nice to get back out there, especially in front of [your] own fans. I think it took me a couple of minutes to really believe that I was out there again.
“It’s been almost a year since my last game, but overall I’m happy with how it went. To get the win is the main thing and I felt pretty comfortable, so it was a good first game, nice to get it out of the way.”
Meara had spent much of the past year recovering from the first serious injury of his fledgling career and it was not easy for him, especially since he suffered a few setbacks along the way. But during the entire process he received a morale boost thanks to the outpouring of support from his teammates and head coach, who seemed equally as thrilled as Meara about his return to action.
“I’m real happy for him to be back, the guys are happy for him and when he was called upon tonight … he came up big,” Petke said. “I’m very happy for him. I think that he is, unless I’m wrong, he’s there right now. He’s available to be on [the] first-team bench, to start. That’s a great sign.”
While the injury is now officially in Meara’s rearview mirror, he is still taking away a valuable lesson from having been shelved for so long, and it is one he is already applying it to his regular routine.
“You can take it for granted when you’re playing every day. I certainly don’t take it for granted anymore,” said Meara. “I try to go out there and appreciate every day and have fun with it. And it was tough going through what I went through, and being out for so long, but it’s in the past now and I’m looking forward.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.