UPDATE: The deal is official, and man, is it a doozy. New York City is getting Meara on a season-long, intra-league loan. In exchange, the club is sending Sal Zizzo on a permanent basis to the Red Bulls. What's more, according to Kristian Dyer of Big Apple Soccer, the deal for Meara contains no buy-out clause, so Meara remains property of the Red Bulls. That means he returns to New York at the end of the season, unless both parties decide to extend the loan. Since it's a loan, Meara cannot compete against his parent team, so New York City would have to start Saunders or another goalkeeper against New York.
There's some precedent for this kind of situation, though not in MLS. Chelsea GK Thibaut Courtois was Atlético Madrid's net minder for three seasons, before being recalled to his parent club prior to this season. During that time, Courtois was a wall for Atléti, winning a Europa League title, the UEFA SuperCup, and coming agonizingly close to a European Cup.
But Meara is no Courtois, to say the least. He hasn't played since 2012. His entire body of work consists of 18 games played in MLS. While he's since appeared in MLS Reserve games and the occasional cup tie, that's still a meager résumé. Even if he was a midseason Rookie of the Year candidate before being felled by that hip injury, there's no guarantee that he'll regain that form. Hip injuries, in particular, can be tricky; Bo Jackson, the legendary multi-sport athlete, saw his career cut short by such an injury.
The deal becomes even more baffling when you consider that New York City could have taken a first-choice goalkeeper in yesterday's expansion draft. Both Philadelphia's Zac MacMath and Raïs M'bolhi were available; MacMath, in particular, would've been a steal. While he was inconsistent at times, MacMath remained the Union's starting keeper throughout last season. New York City could've taken him (or M'Bolhi), but instead chose to pick Zizzo and the enigmatic Tony Taylor, who in four professional seasons has yet to play 20 games.
As it stands, New York City's only permanent signing in the position remains Saunders. While there are rumors that the team will sign Carolina RailHawks GK Akira Fitzgerald, it's unclear whether he's a MLS-quality goalkeeper. From my vantage point, it certainly seems as though the club may have fixated on acquiring Meara, to the detriment of other, potentially better -- and more permanent options.
It took a few days more than everyone thought, but New York City finally have their first-choice goalkeeper.
A few hours ago, while recapping this afternoon's expansion draft, MLSsoccer.com's Jason Saghini broke a bit of news: The New York Red Bulls were loaning Ryan Meara to New York City. For a while, there was no independent confirmation of the rumor. Then word started creeping out among various outlets that the rumored loan was indeed happening.
The move addresses needs for both clubs. With Thierry Henry gone, and Tim Cahill likely to follow suit in January, the Red Bulls are in full reconstruction mode. Zizzo, a talented midfielder who can also play defense, fits the bill for New York. He was a workhorse for Portland in their inaugural season, playing 30 games, but also excelled in spot duty for Sporting KC last season.
New York City are in dire need of a goalkeeper; while Josh Saunders excelled in his loan stint with San Antonio, no one considers him a medium-term solution, let alone a long-term solution. He hasn't played in MLS since injuring his knee whilst on contract with Real Salt Lake last year. He appeared in three games for the Claret & Cobalt before tearing his ACL in July of 2013. The injury resulted in a staph infection, which extended his hospital stay by about a month.
As for Meara: the Crestwood, NY native earned the starting job as the Red Bulls goalkeeper in the 2012 preseason. He started 18 games for the club, posting a 9-5-4 record and 1.50 goals-against-average. As a rookie, Meara set a shutout record for rookie goalkeepers, going 321 minutes without allowing a goal while helping the Red Bulls to a five-match winning streak. That made him a midseason candidate for MLS Rookie of the Year, and it looked as though New York had found their version of Nick Rimando.
He then injured his hip in a 2-0 loss to the New England Revolution on July 8, 2012. That injury required him to undergo hip surgery on August 23 of that year. The recovery from that surgery sidelined him for the remainder of the season. The emergence of Luis Robles as a stalwart goalkeeper meant that Meara has only played in the occasional Open Cup or CONCACAF Champions League game.
Both Jason Kreis and Claudio Reyna think highly of Meara, as do the Red Bulls. New York City initially offered the Red Bulls the incredible sum of $300,000 in allocation money in exchange for Meara, a trade that New York swiftly turned down. There were more offers bandied about, until the two teams came to agreement tonight. New York City was so intent on acquiring Meara that the club passed on selecting goalkeeper Zac MacMath, who was the first-choice goalkeeper for the rival Philadelphia Union.
Meara's value isn't limited to his skills. Because Meara holds an Irish passport, he's eligible to play in Europe, meaning that whichever club holds his rights can make a tidy sum by selling him on to a European team. One final note: Meara's great-grandfather played for the New York Yankees, so it's symbolic that Meara's first MLS game in what would be nearly three years would come at Yankee Stadium.
What do you think? Is Meara the answer to New York City's goalkeeping needs? Leave a comment below.