Means victory for you and me
austerities of World Cup training camp, making the recording was two days of
heaven. Meola and some of his teammates stayed with Shelli Azoff, the
entertainment entrepreneur who organized the project. "Her house was like
an amusement park—pool, tennis court, all kinds of cars," he said. "I
drove around in a Porsche 911 Turbo. Harksey got a BMW. And there were no
clinics, no posters to sign. Hey! I'm beginning to get that Trinidad feeling
all over again!"
Meola might have
trouble sustaining that feeling when the U.S. meets the big boys at the World
Cup finals—especially if the team continues to play as tentatively as it did on
its recent tour of Eastern Europe. On March 20, in a friendly match against
Hungary in Budapest, the U.S. defense disintegrated in front of Meola and put
him in what the Associated Press described as "the wrong end of a shooting
gallery." He minimized the damage, but the U.S. still lost 2-0. The
following week, in East Berlin, the U.S. was more aggressive. However,
defensive gaffes (including one by Meola himself) proved costly once again, and
East Germany won 3-2. Both Hungary and East Germany are pushovers compared with
some of the teams the U.S. will face in the finals.
to the U.S. in June, it's likely that Meola will stay in Europe this fall to
play professionally. His first choice would be to sign with a first-division
team in Italy, where both his parents were born and where his grandmother still
from Sheffield reflects the widely held view that he is capable of playing at
soccer's highest level. Strange as it sounds, his special talent is that he is
rarely spectacular. He hates, for instance, the flashy punch-outs some goalies
specialize in, and he doesn't make a great number of saves. Instead, he does
something much harder: He consistently removes the necessity of saving.
"What I like to do is destroy situations while they are still
developing," he says. "The odds are, if you let a good forward take a
shot the way he wants to, he'll score."
John Millar, who
was Meola's coach at Kearny High, says: "I'm still amazed at the way Tony
dominates, hell, owns the box. He can come off his line so fast that he'll
intercept through-passes. And in the air he is almost unbeatable."
historians of the sport write about Meola, they will have some interesting
ironies to ponder. Soccer is perceived in the U.S. as an upper-middle-class
sport. Any computer put to the task would no doubt project that the first
American star would come from a well-to-do suburb like Ridgewood, N.J., or
Darien, Conn. Certainly not from a hard-hat town like Kearny, which is in a
section of New Jersey across the river from New York City that has been
unkindly described as looking like the inside of a radio circa 1935.
But Kearny was a
good soccer town at least half a century before the sport became trendy
elsewhere in the country. It has a long tradition of producing topflight
players, including yet another key U.S. team member, midfielder Tab Ramos.
"None of my friends ever went to see the Yankees," recalls Meola.
"Kearny kids don't want to be in the World Series. They want to be in the
Take a stroll
through Kearny, and you might think you're in Scotland. There's the Thistle
Fish & Chips Shop, the real thing, with deep fryers taking up a whole wall.
There are Scottish butchers who ship meat pies to the British Embassy in
Washington. And there's the Scots-American Club, the place to watch Tony and
the boys on TV.
affair with soccer began shortly after 1890, when a Scottish milling firm,
Coats & Clark's Thread Company, set up an operation along the Passaic River
and offered skilled workers in the old country free passage and six-year
contracts to settle in New Jersey. It's said that as later recruits from
Scotland and Ireland came ashore, scouts from the newly formed Thistle Football
Club waited on the dock to snap up likely prospects.