Tony Meola isn’t going to be upset if Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen breaks his single-season record for goals-against average, and he isn’t jealous of his former team’s new digs.
Quite the contrary, Meola, who started in goal and was the MLS MVP as well as the MLS Cup MVP during the club’s 2000 championship season, has nothing but love for Kansas City, where he played six seasons from 1999-2004 with the then-Wizards.
Meola, who was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame earlier this year, toured Livestrong Sporting Park for the first time Monday during an appearance in conjunction with the U.S. men’s national team’s FIFA World Cup qualifier and was thrilled to see how the sport he loves now grips Kansas City.
“I got to go on a full tour, and they didn’t leave any stone unturned in this place,” Meola said when asked about Livestrong. “Kudos to the organization. The players should relish playing in a place like this.
“I would have loved to have played here, but I’m not jealous. I’m happy for the league, and I’m happy for Kansas City. This is what we all wanted as we tried to grow the league, something like this, so I am happy for it.”
Meola — who still owns the club records for goals-against average (0.92), saves (129), shutouts (16) and save percentage (79.6) in a season as well as career marks among goalkeepers for games (125), minutes (11,323), wins (49), shutouts (37) and saves (507) — fondly remembers his tenure here, a span that also included the club’s 2004 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title.
Apparently, fans remember him fondly too.
Before the U.S. national team’s match against Guatemala, a steady stream of fans snaked through the line for 2 hours as Meola signed autographs and posed for pictures at Livestrong’s Sprint Plaza.
These days, he follows the New York Red Bulls and Philadelphia Union more closely, clubs within an hour of his home in his native New Jersey, but Meola also keeps an eye on Sporting KC — and he’s impressed with what he sees.
“Sporting KC has a very good, very well-balanced team,” Meola said. “One thing that really sticks out is the tenacity when they don’t have the ball. It’s a mind-set and style that comes directly from (coach) Peter (Vermes). It’s still a young team, but you can see his fingerprints all over it.”
Meola and Vermes played together on the ground-breaking U.S. squad that ended a 40-year drought to qualify for the 1990 World Cup. Meola and Vermes were reunited for three seasons from 2000-02 in Kansas City.
“I think they are as good as any team in the league,” Meola said. “If any team has a mystique going for it right now, it’s San Jose. They seem to be getting it done, but Sporting KC is right up there.”
During his return visit, Meola — who debuted a new soccer show, “Counter Attack,” with John Harkes on SiriusXM’s first soccer-only station on Monday — also conducted a goalkeeping camp in Blue Springs with help from Sporting KC staff and players.