Tony Meola Lands In Right Opportunity In Jacksonville To Make Head Coaching Debut

The veteran of three U.S. World Cup rosters has coached at the youth national team level and embarks on his first stint as a head coach with Armada FC
Matthew Levine (@NASLInsider} | Nov 25, 2015

Tony Meola has spent his entire life immersed in soccer. He’s been a goalkeeper at the game’s highest level as a member of three World Cup rosters for the U.S. men’s national team. He's also coached at the youth national team level and has spent the last several years in broadcasting on television and radio. Meola, though, was hesitant at first to step into the coaching ranks.  

The expectation was always that he would join a staff to coach the ‘keepers with his vast experience playing the position.

“The first challenge for me – about four years ago – was getting away from the tag of being a goalkeeper coach,” Meola said during an introductory conference call as Jacksonville Armada FC’s head coach.

Meola, though, was out to prove that he could be much more than that. Ironically, one of his first coaching positions was as a goalkeeper coach.

“Tab Ramos convinced me to be the goalkeeper coach [with the U.S. U-20s] because he thought it would be a pathway for me to eventually erase that tag,” he said.

Meola is now finally getting his chance, taking over the Armada FC’s coaching vacancy. Meola’s future on the sideline was being shaped as he spent the last few years analyzing the game on television and radio.

“When I went initially to Fox for my first set of games, the question was how do you look at the game,” he noted. “I said, ‘I look at it as a coach.’ There’s certain things when you start the game, you recognize them and have to adjust.”

After conversations with Jacksonville owner Mark Frisch and several confidants, including his former coach with the national team Bruce Arena, Meola was ready to dive into the Armada FC coaching role and will also serve as the technical director.

“Everybody gave me the same answer and it was like you have to go to Jacksonville, you have to do this now and take this opportunity,” Meola said. “The last guy I called was Bruce Arena – if anyone is going to be honest with you it’ll be Bruce – and if he didn’t think it would be a good idea he would’ve told me. He said I’d be crazy not to jump on the opportunity.”

Working with ONE World Sports for several telecasts during the 2015 NASL season, Meola began to develop a knowledge of the Armada FC squad and what it needs heading into its second season. Jacksonville finished in 11th place with a combined record of 8W-7D-15L.

“The one thing that sticks out is the inefficiency on the road, the inability to win games on the road,” Meola said. “You can’t win a championship before winning games on the road. There’s character building when you win on the road, when you get on the bus and know you found a way. This team hasn’t felt that yet.

“We need some leaders. Not to say we don’t have some in this group, but I don’t think you can have enough of them. We need some champions – guys that have won championships and been there before.”

He added: “We probably have to get a little younger up front and more experienced at the back.”

The identification of the players that can help Jacksonville reach the level to accomplish the main goal of winning a championship was also made during Meola’s stint in the broadcast booth. He will also look into his contacts with youth national players, noting that he has been in discussions with at least one player from the U.S. youth ranks. The list of players Meola is looking at to build out the roster is around 30 players who can fit the mold of an entertaining and disciplined attacking unit.

“I grew up in goal, but I’m an attack-minded coach,” he said. “All my teams that I’ve coached like to attack. I want guys that like to take chances. I want to play in their end as much as possible.”

The journey to build Jacksonville into a title contender begins now and what Meola may lack in coaching experience he makes up for in overall experience in the game.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge,” he said. “I understand the vision, I understand the responsibility that has been given to me. I think my vision aligns very well with Mark and what this organization is trying to accomplish. I’m excited and look forward to the challenge. I can’t wait to meet the players, put the rest of this team together, and get on the field for, what we think, will be an exciting year.”

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