João Meira, DM/DC
6-ft-1, 170 lbs., from Setubal, Portugal
Signed with CF97 as a free agent on January 23, 2016 after being released by his last club, Belenenses, following the 2014-15 season
MLSPU 2016 salary: $126,500
Appearances: 28 Games started: 26 Minutes: 2284 Assists: 1
The very model of an average second-division centerback ... not quick enough to play himself out of trouble caused by his often-slow decision making ... when in form and in a group with a good rhythm, can be useful ... always gives great effort, hard to overstate how much that means to a good unit ... prone to missing his mark on restarts, especially runners from deep ... also tends to man-mark forwards deep into midfield, exposing his partner ... combative but not physically overwhelming, can be overpowered
João was a man looking for a fresh start when he was signed by the Fire in January. After (mostly) starting in central defense for four years for C.F. Os Belenenses, he was released in the summer of 2015. He’d helped the club to memorable promotion in his first season in the shirt, but was turned out in a general roster makeover after a difficult season. After a few months in the wilderness, Chicago came calling.
Let’s start with the positives. Meira is a workhorse, a durable, no-nonsense player who seems to be ready to play game-in and game-out. He has almost been an automatic starter for Paunovic, as he has played twenty-eight games this year. He isn’t very vocal on the field but he often leads by example. João’s reliable performances in the back have been instrumental in Jonathan’s Campbell’s development as a rookie. Overall, it has been a consistent campaign for Meira.
On the downside, part of Meira’s consistency is consistently blowing marking assignments, switching off on set pieces, and other delightful mental mistakes. He was part of a defensive unit that, while it seemed to grow in cohesion during the final third of the year, still managed - in that ‘more coherent’ stretch of games - to give up three goals to New England in a US Open Cup semifinal, cough up six goals to DC United, four to NYCFC, three to Columbus and Toronto. And Campbell’s growth, which was impressive, may have been more along the lines of ‘how to cover for your partner who’s on walkabout’ than ‘how to mind-meld to create a tight offside line.’ João’s 2016 begs the question, "At what price consistency?"
Meira is under contract for 2017 so we all expect him to be back. And, as defensive depth, keeping him makes a lot of sense - he’s competitive, he’ll battle for minutes, he’ll keep practices crisp. But if we enter next year with him penciled in as a starter at centerback, expect the Fire to struggle. He can provide defensive support late in games or he can help close out close games, but as a starter, his kind of consistency has high cost in goals allowed. Overall Meira can be a valuable player for his defensive versatility and experience - but we’ve seen enough to see why Belenenses moved on.