The 2014 Major League Soccer Cup is this Sunday and the championship game will pit the Los Angeles Galaxy against the New England Revolution. As a former MLS champion, few people are able to understand how to perform in a championship situation more than National Soccer Hall of Fame goalkeeper Tony Meola. His impressive resume includes being the 2000 MLS MVP, a MLS Champion, and a goalkeeper for the United States national team for multiple World Cups. Meola also lends his athletic expertise to today’s youth in a variety of ways including collaborating with Allstate to create great experiences with aspiring soccer players.
Earlier this week, Tony Meola and Allstate surprised members of several local California soccer teams including West Coast Soccer Academy – Atletico, West Covina – South Hill FC, Greater Long Beach SC and Paramount FC, with a special “Good Hands® F.C.” soccer clinic. Meola, along with former and current L.A. Galaxy players Edson Buddle and Chandler Hoffman hosted a team practice, which was followed by a presentation from Allstate during which each player received new gear and tickets to the MLS Cup. I spoke with Meola about his expectations for the 2014 MLS Cup, his participation with Allstate’s “Good Hands® F.C.” Clinic, and the future of American soccer.
MH: This is a highly anticipated MLS Cup. What are the keys to the game?
Tony Meola: From the L.A. Galaxy side, they know that New England (Revolution) is a team with a lot of movement off the ball. They run at you with numbers. Obviously, Revolution midfielder Lee Nguyen has had an outstanding season. The Galaxy will have to contain the numbers when they lose the ball at midfield. New England will have to deal with what I think is the best forward line with Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, and dealing with their movement. I think that both teams will attack and I think it comes down to who makes a mistake defensively that may change the course of the game. Those are the keys for both teams.
MH: Given your tremendous success as a goalkeeper, how do you assess the goalkeepers for both teams?
Tony Meola: Jaime Penedo has made some outstanding saves this year for L.A. He has had a couple of games that were shaky but he has bounced right back and he has a lot of experience. New England Revolution goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth is another guy that over the last two years has done an outstanding job of developing. I like both of them. I don’t think that you get to a championship game if you have bad goalkeeping. Both of these teams have excellent goalkeeping. Because of all of the stars that these two teams have that those two guys sometimes get overlooked but part of the reason that both teams are here is the goalkeepers.
MH: Tell me about your collaborations with Allstate.
Tony Meola: Allstate is in its fourth year of sponsorship with Major League Soccer and I’ve been able to work with them the last four years during a number of different events. Every time we come out to an event and we get into the community. This we get into a local youth soccer club that doesn’t know we are coming and we surprise them during a practice and by the end of the night Allstate supplies that team with home and away uniforms, sweatsuits, bags, soccer balls, their coaches get equipment, and essentially everything a team would need. At the end, we invite them all and a family member to come to a professional soccer game. In many cases, a lot of the groups that we see wouldn’t have the opportunity to see the game so for me personally that part is the highlight of the weekend.
MH: It is great that you continue to work with youth. It seems that young soccer players are getting more and more skilled. What do you think of the future talent of American soccer?
Tony Meola: They have more opportunities to play at a higher level now. There are academies. They have the dream of playing Major League Soccer as a place to make a viable living so it becomes more attractive. There is more hype and money in the game of soccer. Kids look at all those things when they are young. Those things are important and they are determining factors that can sway a kid from going from one sport to another sport. We have done a good job of laying a foundation for the kids to make the sport as strong as possible.
MH: That is great. Continued success in your work with kids and congratulations on your Hall of Fame induction.
Tony Meola: Thank you. Take care and have a good day.