January 21, 2013
DEVELOPMENT BEFORE WINNING
Meza teaches, coaches, guides players as NJSA 04 director of coaching
By Michael Lewis
Antonio Meza: "Winning and losing, that one doesn't mean much more than placing players in the professional level or national team level."
It's not about winning all the time.
It's about developing players.
If you develop enough players, the winning will take care of itself.
Just ask New Jersey Soccer Academy 04 director of coaching Antonio Meza. He has been teaching, coaching and developing soccer players in the United States for more than 10 years, a job he excels out.
In the past year, he has been making sure the players at the NJSA are learn the finer points of the game.
Meza's talents and skills certainly haven't been lost on NJSA 04 president and CEO Tab Ramos, a former U.S. international and MetroStars midfielder who also is a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
"He runs our academy no different than a professional team in Europe would be running their academy," Ramos said. "Obviously, that's a great asset for us. It was something that I felt like we needed at the club. Certainly it has put our Academy at a high professional level, type environment."
Meza? He wouldn't have it any other way.
A former professional player, Meza has coached youth players for some 25 years. He worked with Colo Colo youth players in his native Chile and developed a national program for youth soccer players.
"I would say 60 percent of the kids we were working on, they became professional players," he said. "Those are the biggest compliments I have as coach, more than titles or championships. I have been always working on the development of players. Winning and losing, that one doesn't mean much more than placing players in the professional level or national team level."
After a coaching stint in Japan Meza came to the U.S. in 2002 and wound up help building the MetroStars youth academy with coach Octavio Zambrano.
"I had a chance to meet Octavio and talk about it and start developing this program," he said. "I put it together with them. Put some ideas together. It was the first youth program in MLS."
He stayed for 10 years before he left the Red Bulls last year.
Then the NJSA 04 door opened.
Meza, 46, has put some deep roots in the U.S. -- his three children were born here -- wants to make it permanent. He needs a work permit to keep coaching and now he has applied for a green card.
"My life is here," he said. "This is one of the things I have been doing for so long here, I just want to keep growing. I think it's a great opportunity to stay on and keep moving forward.
"It is a dream come true living in the United States, the land of opportunity that everybody can have in this country, especially when you're doing what you like. I have three American kids, So obviously from that stand point I want the best for the country itself. So anything I can do as a coach is always going to be to give back to what the country has given to me."
He would love to become an American citzen someday.
"Absolutely," he said. That would be my dream."
He is also living a dream, watching some of the players he has coached move on professionally.
Some of the players that Meza guided at the Red Bulls Academy included Red Bulls Academy Connor Lade, who is at U.S. National Team camp in Carson, Calif., Chivas USA forward Juan Agudelo and former home-grown players on the MLS team -- Giorgio Chirgadze, Matt Kassel and Sacir Hot and many other players who are with the U-17 youth national team.
"Before, I played in Chile. Being in sports using sports as a tool to develop people more than players," Meza said. "You give the people an opportunity to grow as individuals. If you can help them develop as athletes, it's even better. Obviously, the things I enjoy the most is seeing those guys pursue a career and being successful at any level they want to be. Obviously, for me, it's a great accomplishment to have guys who are playing for the National Team right now. Because of the work, they are where they are."
Besides being director of coaching, Meza also guides the Under-18 team that performs in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy and the U-13 and U-14 Pre-Academy teams.
Since NJSA 04 is about developing players, not necessarily winning, Meza is a perfect fit.
"He is highly educated in the game," Ramos said. "He is very organized. He has a plan. He has a curriculum that he put together for our club. He has the respect of all the coaches. He is a very easy leader to follow. He came into our club. We kind of gave him the opportunity to take over, do what he needed to do. He has done a great job of getting all the coaches on board as far as how they work their sessions every week, making sure everyone has a plan, making sure everyone reports to the club."