North Xtra: Shady Side coach brings pro touch

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It's not often in this area that a team will have the privilege of learning from a professional soccer player.

James Meara, who spent his younger years as a professional soccer player in London, is now spreading his wealth of knowledge of the game to players who wish to follow in his footsteps.

Meara has been coaching high school soccer in the Pittsburgh area for eight years. When he first came over to the States, he spent time at Riverview High School, Shaler Area High School and for the past three years at Shady Side Academy.

"I got to play against players who won the European Cup and played for AC Milan and players who have played at the top level and who have helped me as a player and coach," Meara said.

At the age of 10, Meara turned pro and played for Watford Football Club until he was 23 years old. After that, he spent three years with the DonCaster Rovers Football Club.

The Indians have taken full advantage of the experience their coach has given them, making the playoffs each of the past three years with him controlling the sidelines.

In his first year as coach, the Indians advanced to the quarterfinals of the WPIAL playoffs. They were knocked out in the first round last year and are still in the midst of their playoff run this year.

The Indians lost their Class AA semifinal match against top-ranked West Allegheny on Monday night, 1-0.

They were scheduled to play Wednesday night in a consolation match against South Park with the winner advancing to the PIAA Class AA tournament.

"We needed to start off quickly," Meara said about his chances against West Allegheny. "We had to go after them in the first 10 minutes. And control the ball better than we have in the past."

Shady Side's game plan came up just shy of reaching their next goal of a WPIAL championship as West Allegheny prevailed, 1-0.

Shady Side's Evan Brazenski, who was the Section 2-AA player of the year, was held scoreless for the second time this season against West Allegheny. West Allegheny defeated Shady Side to start the season by a 2-0 score.

Phil King, who is a junior but playing in his first year as the Indians goalkeeper, allowed the one goal but was able to keep his team in striking distance.

Shady Side Academy put itself in a position to win after holding West Allegheny without a goal for the first half of the game.

With time running out, Collin Wurst rifled a shot past King with 13 minutes left that ultimately sealed the win for West Allegheny.

The Indians will have one more shot to continue their season when they face South Park in the consolation game. The Eagles lost, 1-0, to South Fayette in their semifinal match Monday night. The winner will advance to the state playoffs.

Meara's squad earned the No. 4 seed in this year's playoffs after going 14-3-0 overall and 11-1-0 in Class AA Section 2 to win the section title.

A big part of this team's success was the fact that it returned all but one starter from a year ago.

"We were lucky enough to lose only one starter last year," Meara said. "We didn't have to replace a lot of bodies. We knew what kind of tempo we wanted to play and only had to educate one new face and everyone is a year older and wiser."

Meara hasn't stopped at the high school level when it comes to spreading his knowledge.

He also serves as the director of soccer at Shady Side Academy for all teams in grades kindergarten through 12.

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