Clean Sheet: Jax Mag's interview with Tony Meola


// photo by Agnes Lopez

Tony Meola’s career is a storied one amongst soccer fans. He (and his then-trademark ponytail) represented the U.S. National Team as goalkeeper at the 1990, 1994 and 2002 World Cups and from 1996 to 2006, played in Major League Soccer, the top U.S. soccer division. In November, he was named coach of the North American Soccer League’s [NASL] Jacksonville Armada FC, replacing Guillermo Hoyos, who was fired in September. Here, the new coach reflects on the art of competition, his new gig and his sports idols.

Coaching such a young team comes with a unique set of challenges. What’s your mission? To bring in some experience to the team—a good mix of hardened veterans and young talent.

What will it take to make the team an elite competitor in the NASL? It takes guys who want to compete. It takes bite, and attitude and belief in yourself.

Best advice you’ve ever received: Bora Milutinović, our 1994 World Cup coach, didn’t speak English very well but he had this quirky saying: “The only play you can do something about is the next one.”

You’ve played a variety of sports [Meola was drafted by the Yankees out of high school and briefly played for the Jets as a placekicker]. How is soccer different? When it comes to competition, there’s no difference. The good ones compete, the bad ones fall off.

Favorite sports teams: The Yankees. You either hate ‘em or you love ‘em. There’s no middle ground. But I grew up with them—guys like Graig Nettles, Thurman Munson, who understood what it took to play for an organization like that.

Ideal day off: My family loves to fish. I’m the guy pulling off the road when I see water.

Favorite television shows: 24, Homeland and The Voice, which we like to watch as a family.

Athletes you most admire: Michael Jordan epitomized a team leader. The Bulls didn’t win an NBA final until he decided he was going to dish out some assists, which actually made him a better athlete. He figured out how to bring everyone else into the game. That’s what great players do. And my all-time favorite is Derek Jeter. Most of us will never achieve what he did as a player, but we can all become that teammate. That part isn’t physical. In my career, I wanted to be the guy that—when things go bad—you want to be in the bunker with. u