Tony Meola is one of the most recognizable American soccer players of all time. To sports fans of my generation, Mr. Meola is synonymous with the 1994 World Cup and the launch of Major League Soccer. The former Virginia Cavalier was a multi-sport athlete who was drafted by the New York Yankees and spent a brief period with the New York Jets. He started in MLS in 1996 and played in the league through 2006. He earned 100 caps with the USMNT.
As part of the ongoing Chelsea tour and Summer of Soccer, Mr. Meola is working with league insurance sponsor, Allstate and recently made an appearance at Century Link Field as part of the Allstate fan FanZone.
Thanks to Mr. Meola.
Footiebusiness.com: You’ve played in multiple domestic leagues, and were involved with MLS for most of its first decade. Has the level of professionalism, specifically with respect to the facilities and training available to players, changed from the early days of the league? Do players now have access to better nutrition, practice equipment and other items? How does that impact the players over the course of a season?
Tony Meola: The level of facilities from a training standpoint are actually pretty much the same since the beginning stages of MLS. From the inception of the league, we always had access to the latest medical and training resources, but the level of technology has provided additional capabilities to athletes across all sports. Lately, we’ve especially seen improvements on athletes having the ability to monitor their own bodies, allowing them to achieve the best levels of fitness and health as possible.
FB: European teams have been traveling to the US to play MLS teams for at least a decade. These games draw big crowds and significant television coverage. Do you think there is a risk of over-saturation? Can the league capture the fans who come out to see Chelsea and convince them to stay for MLS?
TM: Over-saturation is always a concern at the back of your mind but if stadiums are filling up then I don’t think we are at a point right now where we have to truly worry about it. So far we’ve done a great job promoting the games and the teams especially due to television coverage of the major teams (Chelsea, Roma, etc) who are coming to the US for preseason. Fans want to come out to the games to see the players that they watch on TV all year. There is a small window (about a month) where the European teams can come play here so people will definitely come out to watch those games.
MLS has been able to convince fans to stay for their games in the past so I am confident that they will be able to do that moving forward. MLS hopes that the fans who come out to their games are true soccer fans and therefore will continue to come back week in, week out. We do a great job in the United States with events around the games which help draw people in as well.
FB: The MLS All-Stars struggled mightily against Manchester United in the last two AS Games. Does MLS run the risk of hurting its image and losing potential fans with bad results in these high profile contests?
TM: No I don’t think so. You are bringing together a group of guys who haven’t played together and they’re up against teams like Manchester and Chelsea (some of the best in the world) who’ve been together all season. We can’t expect things to look and be perfect. That doesn’t happen. MLS clubs have a better chance at some of these games because they are playing in their club system and are familiar with how other players within that system play. MLS soccer players are looking forward to Philadelphia and I myself am looking forward to being out there at an event with Allstate prior to the MLS All-Star game and then enjoying what I think will be another great showcase of MLS soccer.
FB: Finally, do you think these games raise the profile of Major League Soccer with fans outside the United States? Should the league be concerned about its image overseas? Does this image help attract players to MLS?
TM: MLS should always be concerned about their image but to that point I don’t think losing to a team like Manchester in an MLS All-Star game necessarily hurts their image in any way, shape or form. I think people look at the quality of the individual players. I’m sure people from all over the world tune in to watch these All-Star games and because of that they can see what goes on in all of the local markets (Portland, Seattle, Kansas City and now Philadelphia) and see an atmosphere that is similar to what they are used to.
MLS will always be attractive to soccer players around the world. When I used to travel overseas (even in the early days), people would always ask me about playing in the United States. I discovered that a lot of players all over the world are intrigued by MLS and want to play here. I don’t think that is something that is ever going to change.
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