The New York Red Bulls went at least part of the way toward solidifying one of their biggest "problem positions" today, when they signed goalkeeper Ryan Meara to a professional contract. Meara, selected in the second round of the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, is a local product from Fordham University, John Wolyniec's alma mater. He was the consensus top player at his position in a draft unusually weak in goalkeeping (the rare soccer discipline where America seems to have a leg up on the rest of the world).
With the more experienced Jeremy Vuolo also under contract and probably the number one choice at the position if the Red Bulls' season started today, Meara is unlikely to see much action. He could be pushed even further down the pecking order if, as the Washington Post's Steven Goff cryptically suggested today on Twitter, another returning American, Luis Robles, is being looked at by the Red Bulls brass. Robles was originally drafted by DC United five years ago out of the University of Portland, but chose instead to pursue opportunities in Germany, first with FC Kaiserslautern and then with Karlsruher FC.
The goalkeeping position was a source of constant problems for the New York Red Bulls during the tumultuous 2011 season. Though the club was near the top of the MLS table in scoring, shaky performances from the likes of Bouna Coundoul and Greg Sutton saw far too many goals let it at the other end. Factoring in the one-game stints of Chris Konopka and Alex Horwath - and Frank Rost's 11 starts as a designated player - New York employed a league-high five netminders in 2011, more than any other MLS club.
After an uneven start, Rost settled down and provided some much-needed consistency at the tail end of the season, helping the team reach the playoffs. But the Red Bulls clearly had other plans for their third designated player slot and were only interested in bringing Rost back on a non-DP deal. When terms of a new contract could not be agreed with the big German, however, the Red Bulls suddenly found themselves without a goalkeeper, having released Coundoul and Horwath, and having sent Sutton back to Canada, where he joined Montreal Impact on a permanent deal.
Now, with Meara and Vuolo signed and in training camp, the Red Bulls have two young, relatively untested American goalkeepers, with potentially a third on the way. Has New York abandoned the idea of having an older, more experienced player mentor their corps of keepers, hoping instead that a clear #1 will emerge during preseason, or is there something else in the works? Questions will continue to be asked about the Red Bulls' goalkeeping strategy, until a veteran presence arrives or one of the "youngsters" makes a strong claim for a permanent place in the starting XI.