For much of the offseason, the New York Red Bulls faced questions regarding their goalkeeper situation and who would replace last year’s starter, Frank Rost.
Ryan Meara answered some of those questions on Sunday.
In his professional debut, Meara was one of the few bright spots on a New York side that was outplayed for large stretches in a 2-1 loss to FC Dallas at FC Dallas Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
“I definitely had a little butterflies when I was walking out: good atmosphere, lots of fans, lots of noise,” Meara said. “But I enjoyed every second of it, it was a lot fun. It would have made it a little more sweet if we could have pulled out a draw or a win.”
The rookie out of Fordham came up with a handful of quality saves that kept the Red Bulls in the game, including on a pair of close-range effort from FCD forward Blas Pérez. In fact, had Meara performed more like a first-year player than a grizzled veteran, New York could have suffered an embarrassing loss to start the season.
“He was great. He was quite nervous before the game,” Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe said. “I could see it on his face, and it’s understandable. He had one cross he missed in the first half, otherwise he made two or three very good saves, so I’m happy for Ryan.”
With an unfamiliar center back tandem in Stephen Keel and Markus Holgersson playing in front of him, Meara was busy almost immediately after the opening whistle. He was forced into making a save on a shot from Ricardo Villar in the seventh minute.
Meara may have prevented a goal on that play, but New York conceded four minutes later. After Holgersson and Dax McCarty each flubbed clearances inside the penalty area, Meara could do nothing as an unmarked Zach Loyd finished with a low shot from 10 yards out.
Rather than get rattled by the early goal, Meara continued to play confidently, coming off his line to snatch crosses and coming up with a quality block on Pérez in the 33rd minute.
“Luckily that was right at me, because he really cracked that one,” said Meara. “My chest was sore for a couple minutes after, but I made the save.”
The second half saw more of the same from Meara. The 21-year-old goalkeeper made a good save in the 52nd, blocking a shot from Villar after the FC Dallas attacker broke free of the defense.
Denied twice by Meara already, Villar finally beat the Red Bulls goalkeeper nine minutes later on a sequence that began with a mis-hit backpass from Red Bulls left back Roy Miller.
The goal, which came on a chipped effort, was a moment of quality from Villar, who was played in on goal by Perez. Still, Meara felt he could have done better to save the shot.
“If I could do it over again maybe I would have stood him up a little longer, but you got to give him some credit,” said Meara. “It was a pretty good finish.”
Meara’s day at the office wasn’t done after that. He denied Pérez again from close range in the 72nd with a diving save, and that helped the Red Bulls stay in the game.
“It was nice to come out and get the debut over with,” said Meara. “It was a long preseason leading up to the first game, and I thought on another day we would have come out with a win or a tie. We played well, especially, the second half, but it just didn’t fall our way today.”