The Red Bulls begin a big three-game homestand at Red Bull Arena this weekend, and Ryan Meara understands the dynamic of playing in New York as well as any professional athlete ever. He was born in the Crestwood section of Yonkers, competed at Fordham Prep, and became a legend at Fordham University on the soccer field. He was drafted by the Red Bulls in 2012, where he has spent his entire career in net. And, he was even briefly loaned to NYCFC for a match in '15. In other words, he only knows New York.
"I don't think there's a better place to win," Meara told the "New York Accent" podcast. "You look at guys on other teams who have won here in New York in other sports and they're legends forever. So listen, it's a tough place to lose, but it's the best place to win."
The Red Bulls are just a point out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and face a team they're chasing, Orlando City, on Saturday. NYRB fans are starving for the franchise's first MLS Cup. One of the inaugural teams for the league in '96, the Red Bulls began as the MetroStars, and Meara grew up idolizing keeper Tony Meola and going to Giants Stadium for games. Twenty-seven years later, however, the organization still has not brought home the ultimate championship; despite plenty of elite regular season squads and multiple Supporter's Shields (given to the team with the best record in the league), the Red Bulls are searching for the ultimate prize.
"Listen, like I'm a New York sports fan myself," Meara says. "I know how critical and tough I am on the teams that I root for and the guys on those teams. It's not fun when the fans are giving you a hard time, but I'd always rather that. It means they care. If they show no reaction win or lose like they're probably not that into it and our fans? They definitely care."
Meara has fond memories of heading to the Meadowlands for MetroStars games, but what specifically stuck out?
"Just the turf," he says. "Even as a young kid I remember thinking, 'Man that looks like it's gonna hurt to land.' Diving and landing looks brutal. So luckily that's gone."
The Red Bulls play in state-of-the-art Red Bull Arena now, where the natural grass field is one of the best in soccer.
"But it was fun," Meara recalls. "We tailgated and got a good crew out there. Only probably got to a game or two a year. But I loved it, you know, and then to now be playing for the team? I still pinch myself sometimes."
If anyone understands and appreciates trying to bring a title to New York, it's Meara. That pressure is a good thing. It comes with the territory.
"The fans let us know when we're struggling... when we're going through a tough, tough stretch. But that's New York for you."