Rising Action and Climax:
Not long ago, a time existed when fans feared that each result rested within the hands of the goalkeeper – literally. Hans Backe’s managerial tenure for the New York Red Bulls is often remembered for the uncertain net-minding situation.
Experienced players such as Bouna Condoul, Greg Sutton and Frank Rost were penciled in and out of the lineup for varying lengths of time. A complete unknown in Alex Horwath even made a lonely appearance in 2011 before being waived shortly after.
This period fraught with paranoia seemingly ended when Ryan Meara set the shutout record of 321 minutes for a rookie goalkeeper during five consecutive wins in April 2012, according to his profile on mlssoccer.com. However, a season-ending hip injury suffered against New England Revolution, less than two months later, reawakened all those same fears.
Two of his performances during the record-breaking stretch:
Bill Gaudette and Luis Robles were signed as cover. Robles outright won the job after an impressive 2013 and is the incumbent starter for the upcoming season. Meara, unfortunately, became a bystander.
A 10 month rehab program saw his playing time significantly diminish. Meara’s past two competitive games were against Reading United and New England in the US Open Cup. In the first game, he recorded a shutout against an amateur/semi-professional side and in the second, he conceded five against a strong New England team.
That result saw the Red Bulls lose the right to advance (once again) in the 2013 edition of the historic cup competition, which ultimately meant that Meara’s first-team playing time ended as well. A handful of reserve league games and two Open Cup matches is a clear drop in standards from the debut season for the Fordham University alum.
Some may argue that young goalkeepers, due to the longevity of one’s career, usually spend extended time on the bench. The development of a player with the talent of Meara, who led a winning-record team before injury and was an Ireland U-21 invitee, should not be left to the chance Robles loses form or suffers an injury. Simply put, Meara needs professional, first-team minutes now.
A congested 2014 schedule for the Red Bulls sees them entered into the CONCACAF Champion’s League, which most likely means extra games for Meara. Is that enough though? The answer is an undoubted “no”, but the chances of a trade or sale is not likely. The only available option left is an intra-league loan.
Tony Cascio famously became the first product of the new rule as Colorado loaned him to Houston for the 2014 season. A loan to another MLS team makes sense for Petke, Roxbourgh and staff for many reasons.
To begin with, although his commodity is well-regarded within the organization, his value around the league naturally declined since his injury. Many general managers probably still admire his abilities but a trade involving significant allocation money or a first-team player swap (trades NYRB would likely demand) might be viewed as too risky to the interested parties.
If he is loaned instead, Meara will gain the shot to impress once again and increase his value to similar or greater heights than before the injury. In 2015, the Red Bulls will then have the options of using Meara as valuable trade bait or selling him for a potential seven digit transfer fee to European suitors tantalizing over his prospects and Irish passport. Also, in the case of an unlikely loss of form or injury to Robles, the Red Bulls can keep Meara and hand him the starting position.
The teams that are possibly interested in a loan:
After a quick analysis of teams across the league, only a few were of worthy status for a cooperative loan. Of course, these teams are all in the Western Conference as any team would only demonstrate stupidity to loan to conference rivals. The list of potential teams include Vancouver, Dallas, San Jose and Seattle.
Vancouver is the best candidate that should suggest a loan because only one goalkeeper, David Ousted, is currently under contract, according to the roster on their website. A talented player who can challenge him is definitely wanted by Vancouver. Ousted, 29, recorded 4 shutouts in only 13 starts after arriving midway through 2013, but he is an experienced campaigner in his native Denmark, according to his player profile.
Despite the difference in age and time as a professional, Meara technically has more game experience in MLS than Ousted. Head Coach Carl Robinson even infamously failed in an attempt to draft UCONN goalkeeper, Andre Blake, who eventually went to Philadelphia with the first pick.
The respective goalkeeping situations in Dallas, San Jose and Seattle are all relatively secure but a quality challenger like Meara is not beyond the realms of possibility of bringing in. Raul Fernandez earned an All-Star selection in 2013 for FC Dallas and is the starter for the Peruvian national team. His stock is high internationally, and he might request a transfer in the future.
In San Jose, the re-branded Earthquakes still have the reliable Jon Busch between the posts, but he is turning 38 this year. Their young backups, David Bingham and Bryan Meredith, are highly-rated but largely unproven professionally.
And finally, in Seattle, the Sounders traded for the talented Stefan Frei, but his stock, like Meara, fell after injury problems in recent years. The Seattle fan-base have lofty expectations for the 2014 season, and Frei may not be able to handle the pressure.
Some glaring problems about loaning Meara exist. The first issue is finding a temporary replacement. Santiago Castano, 18, is the only other backup. Presumably, Petke does not want a young academy product as his next-in-line, so an experienced goalkeeper signing or two would then become necessary (and possibly costly).
Another problem is the technicalities involved for an intra-league loan. MLS states that “only players 24 years of age or younger are eligible for loans” and “loans must be executed within the primary transfer window of a given MLS season (Feb. 12-May 6 in 2013).” This means that Meara, 23 (born in November 1990), is only eligible for a loan up until May 2015.
As a local kid from Yonkers, NY, Meara may prefer the opportunity to fight for the starting position rather than leave his family and friends for another team. If he is not loaned out this season, the option always remains next year.