HARRISON, N.J. – It was a bit of déjà vu all over again for Ryan Meara, the New York Red Bulls goalkeeper who had two brilliant first-half saves in succession, as well as a stop in the penalty kick shootout win over the Philadelphia Union in the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday night. The victory sends the Red Bulls into the quarterfinals but also underscored the value of one of the league’s best backup goalkeepers.
Meara, who has sat behind entrenched starter Luis Robles since the tail-end of the 2012 season, got a rare start on Wednesday night and used the Open Cup to shine. It was last year in the USL playoffs where Meara twice made stops in a penalty-kick shootout to see his team through to the USL title.
Saying that he “felt comfortable in the situation” given the saves he made in the USL playoffs a season ago, Meara’s big night now gives a spark to a Red Bulls season that has sputtered at points in the MLS regular season. On the third kick, where he denied Fafa Picault, Meara said that he didn’t know the Union midfielder's tendencies.
He reacted quickly, diving to his right and going full extension to get his fingertips on the ball and push it wide.
“No, to tell you the truth, I don't usually like knowing the guy's past. I like to size them up and let my instincts take over, and whatever side you commit to, you just have to go one-hundred percent,” Meara said. “Luckily, the ball was there when I dove and luckily, it hit my foot and didn't go in.”
Earlier in the day, the Red Bulls announced a contract extension for Robles, a goalkeeper in the US national team pool and among the best in MLS. Since getting his first start with the team late in 2012, he has made 157 consecutive starts in league play.
Robles hasn’t missed a minute of play during that stretch, a league record. Inspiring stuff, but certainly something that can be a bit frustrating for a backup like Meara, a goalkeeper who good start to his MLS career as a rookie in 2012 and who likely could be a starter on a number of other teams.
The supporters clubs directly behind the goal began chanting his name whenever Meara began his slow gait towards goal to face a penalty. Eventually, the rest of Red Bull Arena joined into the chant.
“I said to the group before the PKs that we should go in with concentration and focus and know that we've got a champion in net for penalties, an absolute champion. Listen, we see he's good on penalties in training, too. It's not random,” said head coach Jesse Marsch.
“I think Ryan had a lot of confidence and knew that it was about making one save. He makes it by the hair of his chin. But yeah, I mean, going into it, we knew we had a good goalkeeper in goal. Not just that, but you have to also tip your hat to the saves he made in overtime specifically."
Marsch credited Meara for waiting for his chance to make an impact on the Red Bulls' season:
“I mean, it's not easy for Ryan because he plays behind a great goalkeeper, a guy that plays every night, that's prepared, and physically always ready, mentally ready. Luis is a stud. But Ryan is a stud, too.
“He comes to work every day and has a great work ethic, is so committed to the team, never complains, does everything and more that could be asked of him. I'm really, really happy for him. Really happy.”