By Lenn Robbins
Red Bulls goalie Ryan Meara remembers being nervous, and who could blame him? The son and nephew of New York City firemen, Meara grew up in firehouses around the city – climbing on trucks, donning gear and pretending to drive the big rigs, lights blazing.
Then 9-11 rocked Meara’s romantic vision of what it meant to be a firefighter.
“I was 10-11 years old when 9-11 happened,” said Meara. “I grew up in Yonkers, not far from LaGuardia Airport. There were planes going overhead all the time. The next couple of months I was nervous. My father, my uncle, all the guys I knew, they were super heroes to me.
“My mother said to me, ‘You know all those big, strong guys your dad works with? Do you think any of them would let something happen to your dad?’”
Meara knows he’s one of the lucky ones. His father, Jack, a lieutenant at Engine 46 in Hudson Yards, and his uncle, Tommy, the chief at Battalion 9 in Times Square, both made it home alive that fateful day. Many of their friends did not. Battalion 9 lost more firefighters than any in the city on 9-11.
This 9-11 will be an especially poignant one for Ryan. It will mark the first time since 9-11 that he and his father will be together on that date. Jack will speak at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in on Friday night in Yonkers and Ryan will be there.
“It means a lot,” said Jack Meara, who goes to all of his son’s games. “For some reason Ryan was very affected by 9-11 as a kid. We have three boys but he was the one most effected.”
The terrorist attacks helped shape Ryan Meara, 29. He has a resiliency that only comes from overcoming adversity. A former star at Fordham Prep and a Fordham University alum, Meara has been the backup to Luis Robles for six seasons. An assortment of injuries and Robles’s standing as one of the top keepers in MLS history kept Meara on the bench.
But he persevered. When Robles was injured during the 2018 season,snapping his streak of 183 straight matches, Meara answered the call and made six saves in a 3-1 Red Bulls win. The Red Bulls decided to move on from Robles after last season and Meara has been solid, allowing 1.20 goals per game.
“It means the world to me,” said Meara. “I’d be lying if I said the last couple of years have been easy. One thing I prided myself on was staying ready and being as good a teammate as possible. Now that I’m one of the older guys, that’s even more important to me, helping the other guys. It’s something I don’t take lightly.”
Neither does the plight of the first responders who developed health issues in the years since the attack. Meara works with the Answer the Call, the non-profit founded by former Mets star Rusty Staub that benefits New York Police and Fire Widows and Children.
“One of the things we talk about is that more first responders have died since 9-11 from cancer and other diseases than died that day There are a lot of them struggling every day and I feel like they’re getting forgotten.”
Meara holds great admiration for New York’s Bravest. He was preparing to take the FDNY test when the Red Bulls used the 31st pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft on the 6-foot-4 goalie. He has found a familiar brotherhood with the Red Bulls that he saw in firehouses around the city
“I have such deep pride in the New York Fire Department, the busiest in the world. There’s such a camaraderie within. The fact of the matter is you need guys to be on top of their game. It’s the same way to a much greater extent in the NYFD. It’s not just a win or a loss. Lives can be lost. I feel very lucky to have experienced both teams.’