Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia rises to greatest heights yet with key role in US Open Cup triumph

CHESTER, Pa. -- With the 2015 US Open Cup final headed for penalties on Wednesday, the Philadelphia Union opted to swap in specialist John McCarthy, the goalkeeper who had previously won two Open Cup matches during the run to their second final in as many years.

Sporting Kansas City -- as they had all tournament -- stuck with Tim Melia, who absorbed nearly all of a 13-shot Union barrage during a frantic first half before blanking Philadelphia for the final 97 minutes of on-field action.

During the penalty shootout, McCarthy kept guessing correctly, even stopping Krisztian Nemeth’s low roller with a diving stop in the third round. But Melia denied Maurice Edu that same turn, and was first to turn away a second attempt, kicking away Andrew Wenger’s low liner, eventually resulting in a 7-6 margin after the teams drew, 1-1, following 30 minutes of extra time.

Kansas City raised their second Open Cup, and third trophy overall in four years. Melia’s seven save performance played a key role in continuing the culture of winning titles SKC has targeted under head coach Peter Vermes.

“He’s a big story in all this,” said Vermes. “When Tim started for us the first game [on May 23], he had started 5 MLS games and I think he lost all five. He’s been money ever since."

Melia, who toiled as a backup for five seasons (two and a half at Chivas USA behind Dan Kennedy, two at Real Salt Lake behind Nick Rimando) before earning his break with SKC as the league pool goalkeeper last season, took over the starting role for Sporting in May and has provided stability in the back, averaging 1.26 goals against, with a 70 percent save percentage. His win percentage of 47 percent currently ranks fourth in the league among players with at least 18 starts.

Against the Union on Wednesday, Melia conceded the opener, when Vincent Nogueira connected with Sebastian Le Toux on an arcing, cross-field longball the forward received in stride, striking it past the oncoming ‘keeper. Melia quickly flipped disappointment into an advantage, using the experience gained to adapt his approach in the 36th minute, as Le Toux advanced down the right flank off another Nogueira feed.

“I hesitated on the first goal,” Melia said. “The way the ball was spinning was an in-swinger, and I thought it was just going to skip off the turf and come to me, but it didn’t. I tried to come up, but I was late. It was my fault.

“The ball was played in a little differently the second time, but I knew I wanted to make sure it was either going through me, or else. Because I wasn’t going to be late again.”

There existed little relief after that recovery -- the rebound came out to Tranquillo Barnetta, who rocketed a left-footer that Melia, now moving right, knocked away at full extension seconds later.

Turning away five shots in the first half, Melia deflected another two in regulation while Kansas City managed to reverse momentum, equalizing on Nemeth’s curling shot in the 65th minute. Union head coach Jim Curtin said afterward that he felt more goals were coming as the game wore on, and had told his team at halftime they needed to ensure it was 2-0. Instead, Nemeth struck.

For a third time in three Cup Finals, SKC went to penalties, and for a third time, they celebrated afterward. Melia gave up the first goal of the game, but made the final save.

"I’m really happy for him," Vermes said. "He’s one of those guys you feel really good about. He deserves it.”