Vermouth Deportivo: How was the experience on playing a World Cup while you weren’t a professional soccer player? (USA did not have a professional league at beggining of the 90’s)
Tony Meola: Things were different in the US back in 1990. During qualification, I was playing in college at the University of Virginia. Most players found it difficult to find proper training environments but I was lucky because our program was one of the best in the country.
VD: You’re the Captain of a Team that reached out the World Cup’s Second stage for the first time in history. Do you think that this kind of event was like the first step to build the professional league?
TM: Actually, in 1930 the US finished in 3rd place in the WC although under a different format and different circumstances but I don’t want to forget those players. Advancing to the next stage in 1994 proved to be another step forward in building the sport of soccer in the US for sure. We had a lot of pressure because no other host nation had ever failed to advance to the 2nd stage and we did not want to be the first to miss out. It was a good group of players that were young and ambitious to do great things for our sport in this country.
VD: It’s inevitable to remember Andres Escobar -colombian defender that was killed because he scored a goal against his own team-. That game was against your team. Which were your thoughts when you recieve that kind of news?
It was a sad day for everyone involved and no more so that for Andres’ closest family and friends. This type of thing should never happen over a sporting event. Our team took the new with a lot of emotion and it made it difficult to concentrate on preparation for the game against Brazil because our thoughts were with Andres.
VD: You’ve retired from sports at the age of 37 after playing almost your entire career in USA. How hard was the retirement and starting a new life without soccer?
TM: Actually I played until I was almost 40 years old as I played indoor soccer here in the US. Retiring from something you love is never easy. I still joke with my friends that I never “officially” retired and I am always ready to play another game…even at 47 years old!
VD: How Soccer in USA growed up in a country where Football, Basket., NHL and Beseball are the top-sports?
TM: The sport continues to grow in this country every day. We now have great fans, the American players continue to get better all the time, we have some of the nicest soccer stadiums you will find anywhere and overall, the sport is more popular than it has ever been. So many people work hard every day to continue to help our sport grow in this country.
VD: What do you remember on your former south-american teammates Marcelo Balboa and Tab Ramos?
TM: I remember them, and others, with great thoughts both as players and as people. Marcelo is a very well respected television analyst in Major League Soccer and occasionally helps with your Youth National Teams. I see Tab often as we live very close to each other. He is currently the Youth Technical Director of US Soccer and is also our U20 Coach. It’s great that he has spent so much time developing some of our youth players because I think it’s important for them to learn from one of the best players we have ever had in our country.
VD: You were the face of a Soccer Video Game in 1993 -Tony Meola’s Sidekicks Soccer-. How important this announcement was to your career? Did it give you even more recognition?
TM: It was fun to be the first to be part of a video game like that, especially in that time for American soccer. It is amazing how big soccer video games have now become.
VD: How was you first experience as Coach in Jacksonville Armada?
TM: I learned a lot in my time in Jacksonville. I believe we would have turned things around on the field if given more time but this is how coaching goes sometimes. I am looking forward to my next opportunity and will use those experiences to help me in the future. I am also hoping that one day I will have the opportunity to coach outside the US so that I will gain experience from different soccer cultures just as I was able to do as a players.
VD: You’ve been a sports analyst, coach and also introduced in National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2012, which is your present right now?
TM: I am currently looking for my next coaching opportunity. I am coaching with the U18 Youth National Team as an assistant to Omid Namzi who was a former teammate and coach of mine. I love working with his age group because it is such an influential time for young men who are looking to become professional players.
VD: A few days ago, a tragedy that’ve affected almost the entire planet -the crashed airplane where the entire Chapeoense team lost their life-. How an event like this one affects a professional soccer player -not only at sports level, but also as emotional level- ?
TM: This was an incredible tragedy. It is obviously a very sad moment for the family and friends affected but it was also sad for the entire soccer world. These are things that you never expect and never want to happen. Hopefully one day, everyone affected will be able to find some relief in the way our beautiful game was willing to come tougher to show support for the Chapacoense family. Only in our beautiful game do we see this around the world. I hope we never forget all those that lost their lives that day.