Tony Meola has done this before. Assisted by Alls..."/> Tony Meola has done this before. Assisted by Alls..."/>
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Tony Meola Returns Home to Give Back to Kansas City in Big and Small Ways

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Tony Meola has done this before.

Assisted by Allstate’s “Good Hands F.C.,” Meola has been touring the country for the last three years putting on clinics for youth soccer teams before marquee events like the All-Star Game, World Cup Qualifiers, and at the Gold Cup Final. He provides the soccer knowledge in the form of a soccer clinic, while Allstate provides the kids with new gear and tickets to events.

The opportunity this time was free tickets to the MLS All-Star Game in Kansas City and soccer gear to Kansas City Kansas Soccer Association’s Alliance U-18 team.

“I asked the kids how many of them were going to the game,” Meola said. “Only one of them raised their hand. It’s a good feeling to go to bed at night knowing that all those kids were enjoying themselves at the game.”

Meola has been working with kids for the last 22 years, starting after the 1990 World Cup and evolving into events like he put on before the All-Star game. For the last three years he has hooked up with Allstate to put on clinics for youth teams in various locations around the country. Giving back to the community and helping kids at the same time is something that is a natural fit for Meola.

“I don’t know what I would have been doing if I wasn’t playing soccer, but I think I would have been working with kids one way or another.”

He teaches young players everything he knows about the sport he loves, trying to give them new and different opportunities that haven’t existed in American soccer for decades. This is what he does, what he loves, something he would be doing anyway no matter the stage or location.

But for the New Jersey native, doing this event in Kansas City is more than just another event.

This is his return home.

“It has a little extra meaning to me personally,” Meola said. “It is a city that for seven years I called home.” He and his family arrived in Kansas City for after being traded by the MetroStars to the Wizards in 1999. His time in Kansas City made an impression on him.

He’s so Kansas City that when asked what is his favorite bar-b-que place, he gives his favorite (Jack Stack), and then goes on to say that really he makes his BBQ decision based on what is closest, whether it is Oklahoma Joe’s, Arthur Bryant’s, or Gates. You can’t have bad bar-b-que in Kansas City he says.

He’s so Kansas City that his wife and kids, who traveled with him for the festivities this week and will stay here through the New York Red Bull game Saturday, says he has hasn’t seen his family since they’ve arrived in Kansas City. Instead, they are hanging out with former neighbors and friends from where they used to live in Overland Park. It seems the bond is strong enough that his family hasn’t needed to stay in the hotel with him.

Knowing his love for the city, it makes sense that the opportunity to come back to Kansas City and give back to the community was something Meola could not pass up.

“For years, I took and took and took from the soccer community,” Meola said. “I also gave back, but this is an opportunity sort of on my own to give back to the community, and to a group of kids that wouldn’t necessarily have the opportunity.”

Jul 31, 2013; Kansas City, KS, USA; A general view as fans wave flags before the 2013 MLS All Star Game at Sporting Park. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Meola was an international star before ever coming to Kansas City. He was the starting keeper for the famed 1990 U.S. Men’s National Team who earned the country’s first World Cup appearance in over 40 years. Four years later he was the starter for the 1994 team that made it to the knockout round of the tournament for the first time since 1930.

From 1999 to 2004, Meola, along with Preki, were the face of the Kansas City Wizards. In 2000, the Wizards won the franchise’s only MLS Cup and MLS Supporters’ Shield. This was done in large part due to the play of Meola, who won the MLS MVP and Goalkeeper of the Year awards that season. Until Sporting’s U.S. Open Cup victory last year, Meola’s Wizards held the only trophies in the franchise’s history.

So don’t let Meola fool you when he says he took from the soccer community, because the reality is he helped build the soccer community in Kansas City and nationally.

“When I was here I saw it continue to grow,” he said. “We had a couple of games where we had 20,000 one night, Fourth of July games would be good. But we played in this massive Arrowhead Stadium so I’m sure it didn’t look good on TV.”

“I said in 2000 I thought this was a soccer city. I told everyone who would listen back then that soccer fans in Kansas City were pretty passionate.”

Meola was right.

In 2006, a six-man group bought the Wizards from Lamar Hunt. The group, called OnGoal and led by Robb Heineman, went to work putting together a plan that included a soccer specific stadium, resources poured into player development, and a new, forward-thinking re-branding focused on winning over fans.

The result is Sporting Kansas City, and an international spotlight for a city ESPN couldn’t stop gushing about. “They’re everything the Chiefs and Royals are not,” says one media outlet. “Sporting’s relevance cannot be denied,” says another. “There’s perhaps no better example of how far the league has come than Kansas City,” says one more.

Meola may not have built Sporting KC, but he is one of the pillars on which the franchise stands today. The fact that he loves Kansas City and continues to give back to it only makes it sweeter.

“I’ve said all along that if I didn’t get traded back to New York, and I was here, I would have been happy living here for the rest of my life. I loved it in Kansas City.”

And I’m sure if he ever did move to Kansas City, soccer fans would have a lot they would want to give back to him.