This week we spoke with Tony again, and he reflected on the USMNT’s performances, as well as what it means for MLS and the MLS All-Star Game.
Grant Miller (GM): We’re about a month out from the end of the USMNT’s time at the World Cup this summer. What are your thoughts about how they did, how it all went down and your opinion on the tournament as a whole?
Tony Meola: “I thought the USMNT did well, certainly, getting out of the Group of Death. I may have went against the grain a little bit in my predictions early on and said they would get out of the Group of Death and they would find a way — and they did. I know there were a lot of people that thought, “This is going to be impossible.” So from that standpoint, a success, there’s no question. Then they get into the knockout phase, and I think anytime you do that, if you’re a Brazil or if you’re a Germany, some people don’t look at that as a huge accomplishment. For us, it’s always the first challenge in a World Cup so from that standpoint I think we did well.
“You talk about gaining more attention for the sport in our country, that part of it as well, was a home run. Sometimes it’s unfair to put that pressure on one group of players, but with the national team here that’s sort of been what it’s become. This group of guys did a good job of really growing that part of it as well.”
GM: When you took the field at the Rose Bowl on that July day in 1994, did you think that 20 years later you would see the kind of crowds like we did in Chicago and Kansas City this summer?
Meola: “I thought we’d see it one day. We’ve started to build it and it’s continued to grow. But what we did see far outgrew my expectations for what I thought we’d see this year. There were a lot of positives in this [World Cup]. The fact that it was a primetime tournament I think really, really helped. The fact that we got out of this Group of Death. And whether you followed the team from the day of the draw or you were just reading about the World Cup, you kind of read about that the entire time. So the fact that we got out of it, meant that even the casual fan jumped on board and got involved a little bit more than they maybe would have in the past. All those things together really made for the perfect storm as far as marketing this team and this tournament in the U.S. It’s really, really exciting to see the direction it’s going.