Tim Melia has been one of the best goalkeepers in MLS for a while, and he showed why again in Sporting Kansas City's Round of 16 match in the MLS is Back Tournament against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday.
After a frustrating 0-0 deadlock in which they recorded 36 shots, Sporting found themselves in a penalty kick shootout for their MLS is Back Tournament lives against a gutsy Vancouver squad. Melia did what he did best, saving two of the Whitecaps' looks from the spot and seeing another go off the post. In the end, his teammates converted three of their four and got Sporting through to the quarterfinals.
"I think Tim does a really good job on penalties just in regular games," Sporting head coach Peter Vermes said after the game. "So, I'd say he's one of the best, for sure. Whether he's the best I'm not really too sure, but he's definitely one of the best, because even during the season he always seems to find a way to make good decisions. He's got a really good eye for reading what players are going to do."
While he would have rather it didn't come to penalties, Vermes said on the whole he felt his team deserved to advance given the plethora of chances they created and added that a lot of the credit should go to 21-year-old third-string Whitecaps goalkeeper Thomas Hasal, who put in a standout performance in his own right in making eight saves to keep Sporting off the scoresheet.
"We moved the ball, we created a lot of chances," Vermes said. "You've got to give their goalkeeper a lot of credit. The kid did a good job. There are some situations sometimes obviously where you can be a lot more clinical. You could be more concentrated on all those things. But sometimes when they don't happen, you can't lose yourself. I think one thing you have to take into consideration is that we still have to maintain a high level of concentration when we have the ball a lot like we did in the game, especially defensively.
"What tends to happen is that you have to keep a compact group to make sure all of the sudden you don't get picked apart because you're pressing, pressing, pressing for a goal and you open yourself at the back. I thought we had good balance in our attack and I do think the guys, their active defending in this game was actually really, really good. It wasn't an easy game."
For his part, Melia is now 5-0 in his MLS career in penalty kick shootouts, establishing himself as one of the top PK-stopping artists in the league between the posts. The veteran backstop and 2017 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year described his approach in these situations and how it's become one of the strong suits to his game.
"Penalty shootouts are different than penalties in a game," Melia said. "You're trying to pick up little queues, you're trying to see what directions people are looking, tendencies of the shooter, their run-up, their approach. I kind of put everything together all at once and hopefully pick the right side. Tonight I thought the guys taking the shots on our team, they were really good penalties. As a goalkeeper you're just trying to tell yourself to just try to save one and the guys are going to put all theirs in and tonight we were lucky to get out of there in four rounds.
"I think it's just another piece [of my game]. You try to be the most complete goalkeeper you are and you try to work on all different facets of your game. In all the penalty shootouts I've been in, the shooters, especially on [our] team have done so well and most of them have scored and I've had to make a save or two, so a lot of that comes down to the team."