It appears that New York Red Bulls rookie goalkeeper Ryan Meara will have to wait for his chance to play international football.
Sources such as MLSSoccer.com and the Sporting News confirmed earlier this week that Meara was asked to play for the Ireland Under-21 National Team, and that the Red Bulls had blocked Meara from taking a leave from RBNY. Meara is American by birth (he was born in Yonkers, NY), but he is eligible to play for Ireland through his grandparents. The 21-year old goalkeeper has impressed during the first two months of his Major League Soccer career. Meara has had just a couple of "rookie moments" in his eight appearances with the Red Bulls, and he is currently second place in the league in saves (two saves behind league-leader Matt Pickens).
There are several ways to look at the matter whenever such instances arise. Nobody can blame Meara for wanting to participate in an event such as the European U-21 Championships. I'm a big fan of how well Meara has played since the start of the 2012 MLS campaign, but he's got quite a ways to go before he features in the U-21 USMNT side. Playing at the international level would also be an incredible learning experience for the young 'keeper who will hopefully remain a lineup mainstay for the Red Bulls for several years to come.
Somebody has to step in and stop the madness, though, and that's exactly what New York head coach Hans Backe has done in this situation (except not intentionally). I understand that Meara isn't leaping ahead of the likes of Tim Howard and Nick Rimando in this country's national team. Still, Meara has as many ties to the Ireland National Team as I do to Holland. These "in name only" technicalities regarding footballers and national teams has to come to an end.
I'd also like to remind everybody that the Red Bulls don't owe Meara the right to travel overseas to play in any competition. There's no question that some MLS team was going to select Meara on 2012 SuperDraft day, but Meara has started in eight games over the past two months because he was selected by a team that desperately needed a starting goalkeeper heading into the spring. Had Meara been chosen by another team to be merely a "'keeper of the future," it's likely we wouldn't even be having a discussion regarding Meara and the Ireland National Team.
I'm a selfish fan, and the Red Bulls aren't the first team in the world to demand "club before country" loyalty. I look forward to one day seeing Meara participate in international friendlies. One thing all MLS players and fans must understand is that teams will have to make these difficult decisions as long as the league utilizes a summer schedule. International friendlies are great and all, but they're not more important than a match that actually matters in the league standings. Hans Backe isn't necessarily the most popular man among RBNY supporters.
Backe and the New York front office got it right on this one, though.