MANHATTAN — Ryan Meara, a Yonkers native, has made the leap from youth soccer leagues to Fordham Prep and Fordham University — and now all the way to the Red Bulls.
After being selected 31st overall in last month's Major League Soccer draft, Meara, who was named Atlantic-10 Defensive Player of the Year last season, has started training camp with the Red Bulls. He is in Mexico this week as the team kicks off its pre-season matches, and he recently spoke to DNAinfo on the phone about local youth soccer and Major League Soccer, among other things.
DNAinfo: Where did you watch the draft and what was your reaction when your name was announced?
Meara: I watched it at my house with my immediate family and one of my good friends. They had the first round and a little of the second round on ESPN2, but it was only two hours of the draft and then it cut off. So then we had to watch it online but we couldn’t get the live stream, so we had to watch the draft tracker. We kept refreshing the screen and then it came to the Red Bulls. I knew there was a chance, as they were looking for a goalie. Obviously, being from New York I was holding out hope that that’s where I would end up. And then the pick came in and we were thrilled. It was definitely an exciting day, though a little stressful.
DNAinfo: Where did you play youth soccer and what was your experience like?
Meara: I grew up in Yonkers. I played for a small club team called Yonkers United. They’re starting to build it up now. When we played we were the only team that was semi-decent. We had a good team and a great coach. We were fortunate to travel all over and to win a state cup.
DNAinfo: How does youth soccer in New York City rank versus other U.S. cities?
Meara: I think New York City has to be among the best parts of the country, youth-soccer wise. If you look at New York City alone, the amount of kids from different backgrounds, whether it be from Europe or South America or Africa, it’s a huge mixture of kids from all over. It creates a good soccer environment. When we played out in Brooklyn or Queens, some of those youth teams had kids from other countries, and they loved the game. It’s only going to continue to grow here.
DNAinfo: Why did you choose Fordham and what was it like playing there?
Meara: I went to high school at Fordham Prep and for me, Fordham, out of all the schools that I was looking at and being recruited by, made the most sense. In high school I got to know the coach [Jim McElderry] just from being on campus all the time. And the whole aspect of being close to home was important. I wasn’t one of those kids that really wanted to go far away. Fordham is great academically as well. At the time they recruited me they needed a goalie, so it was also important that I go somewhere [where] there was potential for playing time as a freshman.
DNAinfo: You’ve managed to stay local while rising up the soccer ranks. What is it like going from youth soccer in NYC to the pros with the Red Bulls?
Meara: It’s really is a dream come true. Just to be playing in the MLS now, but the fact that it’s the Red Bulls adds a little something to it for me. I grew up going to games — Red Bulls games and even MetroStars games. The fact [that] I’m on the team now, to tell you the truth, it really hasn’t hit me. And hopefully I can inspire some kids from Yonkers or the city in general to know it’s possible to come up through the city’s soccer scene and get drafted and play professional. Overall, staying local couldn’t have worked out better.
DNAinfo: What teams or clubs did you follow growing up?
Meara: The main team I watched was the Red Bulls. When I first started getting into soccer around the seventh grade, [current U.S. goalie] Tim Howard was coming up with the MetroStars. I kind of latched on to him. I always tried to watch the games. For the MLS it’s always been the Red Bulls, but internationally it’s Manchester United. Also, I’m a real big [New York football] Giants fan along with the Knicks and Rangers. As much I hate to admit it right now, I’m a Mets fan. At least I’ve got the Giants right now.
DNAinfo: What are your goals as a professional player?
Meara: First off, being a rookie in preseason I just want to make a good impression. To continue to get better each day. And eventually down the line, I want to be a starter in the MLS. That’s my goal for the next couple years. At some point down the road, if I do really well here, I may want to try out in England or in one of the leagues in Europe. Ultimately, my goal is to help the team win games.
DNAinfo: How’s training camp? What are you doing and what are your first impressions?
Meara: I’ve really enjoyed every second of it. Just playing with guys I’ve watched on TV for the past couple of years — that whole aspect has been really cool, being a part of it from going from being a fan to being on the team. The actual training part is definitely a step up from the college level. The first thing you notice is the speed of the game is so much faster. The guys are bigger and stronger. You always have to be sharp and on your toes.
DNAinfo: Any rookie hazing?
Meara: No hazing yet. Being a rookie, you’ve got to help out carrying some of the equipment to and from the field. I’ve got a feeling, from rumors I’ve heard, that a little hazing goes on during away trips. Hopefully it’s nothing too bad. I might have to get up and sing a song in front of everybody.
DNAinfo: What is it like playing at the pro level with and against world-class players like Thierry Henry?
Meara: Just playing with [Mexico team captain] Rafa Marquez, someone I’ve seen play I can’t even count how many times on TV, is incredible. And [French star] Thierry Henry; he’s not in camp yet but he will be back in a couple of weeks when he’s back from Arsenal. To me, it’s so cool that I’m part of it now. I think it’s great to have an opportunity to play with these guys. A lot can be learned from them.
DNAinfo: Do you refer to the sport as soccer or football?
Meara: No, it’s soccer to me! I’m not one of those Americans that think they’re European just because they watch European soccer. It’s always soccer to me.