Ryan Meara celebrates moving on in the U.S. Open Cup. (Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports)
By Christian Arnold
HARRISON, N.J. – Ryan Meara doesn’t always get the playing time he’d hope for, but on Wednesday night he reminded everyone how clutch he can be when he does get a chance in net.
It was a diving stop during the penalty kick shootout that turned the tide for the Red Bulls – along with converted PKs by Sacha Kljestan and Felipe – and led them to a win over the Philadelphia Union in the Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup. Wednesday was the third consecutive year that New York had faced Philadelphia, which eliminated it from the tournament the previous two years.
“Obviously to beat Philly is always good and the way we did it,” Meara said. “I was kind of confident once we got to penalties that we’d be alright. I’ve seen our guys take plenty of penalties in practice and they’re usually pretty clinical. I was always confident that I’d be able to make one save too, so fortunately it worked out that way.”
It was a big moment for Meara, who hasn’t appeared in an MLS match this season. The 26-year-old keeper finished the game with seven saves, including a pair of big saves in the first half and another five through the rest of the 120-minute affair.
Meara made three crucial stops after the Union tied the game at one in 86th minute, including a big save on Chris Pontius in the 107th minute.
“I think Ryan had a lot of confidence and knew that it was about making one save,” Marsch said. “I mean, going into it, we knew we had a good goalkeeper in goal. Not just that, but you have to also tip your hat to the saves he made in overtime specifically.”
“I mean, it’s not easy for Ryan because he plays behind a great goalkeeper, a guy that plays every night, that’s prepared, and physically always ready, mentally ready. Luis (Robles) is a stud. But Ryan is a stud, too.”
Meara’s performance came just hours after the club announced that they had signed Robles to a multi-year contract extension. Meara admitted after the game that it isn’t always easy to be behind Robles in the Red Bulls goaltending depth chart.
“He hasn’t missed a game in four or five years now, so it’s not easy,” Meara said. “But I try and approach every week like I’m going to be guy that’s going to playing on the weekend. So when a night like tonight does come I just slide right in and I’m ready.”
It’s that preparedness by Meara that Marsch has taken notice to.
“He’s such a team guy,” Marsch said. “That’s all you can say, is he’s just such a team guy. He’s so well-respected within the group.”
Wednesday was not only a big night for Meara, but for the Red Bulls as a whole. New York had failed to move past the Union in the previous two years and it looked as though history would repeat itself again.
Kljestan gave New York a 1-0 lead in the 42nd minute, scoring off a feed from Bradley Wright-Phillips inside the box.
“Bradley did really well to take a good first touch to turn his defender and he played a perfect pass to me right around the penalty spot,” Kljestan said.
That lead disappeared in the 86th minute after Roland Alberg fired a shot past Meara to even the game at one. After 90 minutes and two extra time periods yielded no results the game went to penalty kicks.
The Red Bulls will now face the New England Revolution in the quarterfinals on July 13.