Sporting Kansas City’s illustrious history has seen a number of goalkeepers shine between the posts. Tony Meola was a colossal figure in the early days of MLS, guiding the club to its first MLS Cup and Supporters Shield. Heralded veteran Kevin Hartman made a three-year stop in Kansas City when the Wizards played at CommunityAmerica Ballpark. Jimmy Nielsen then carried Sporting into the new era at Children's Mercy Park, solidifying his legendary status with a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and MLS Cup title.
Tim Melia had big shoes to fill when, in 2015, the longtime MLS backup was named Sporting's starter. Maybe no one could have foreseen it at the time, but this momentous moment marked the beginning of one of Major League Soccer’s greatest stories.
From League Pool Goalkeeper to MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and one of the most successful players in Sporting history, Melia has embarked on a meteoric rise like none other.
Melia, of course, would be the last person to tout his own accomplishments. Over the course of countless interviews during his career, the 35-year-old has never offered up a single soundbite of self-promotion. Instead, he is quick to credit his teammates for Sporting’s collective defensive efforts and praises Manager Peter Vermes and the technical staff for giving him an opportunity to alter the trajectory of his professional journey in 2015.
Thankfully for us, numbers speak volumes. And numbers suggest that few MLS players, if any, have been more underrated over the last seven seasons than Melia.
But before we dive into the stats, it’s worth visiting a quote from Vermes following Saturday’s scoreless draw at Minnesota United FC—a result that saw Melia make seven standout saves in a game-changing performance that kept Sporting within three points of first place in the Western Conference.
“Tim was excellent, but Tim's been excellent all year,” Vermes said. “He's another guy who doesn't get recognized in the way that he should. Week in and week out, he is a consistent goalkeeper. Excellent at shot stopping, excellent with his feet and a great team guy. Just tremendous.”
Vermes used the word “excellent” no less than four times in his assessment of Melia, who has steadily built a goalkeeping resume that stacks up among the best in MLS and—with all due respect to Meola, Hartman and Nielsen—possibly the best in Kansas City history.
Shining at Age 35
In 2021 alone, Melia leads MLS with four road shutouts for a team that hasn’t lost an away match since the final day of spring. On Saturday, he became the second Sporting goalkeeper (alongside Nielsen) to secure clean sheets in three consecutive road appearances after standing on his head against Minnesota.
Melia has saved 75% of shot attempts from inside the box this year, the highest mark in MLS, and his 0.88 goals against average is currently the third lowest for a single season in team history.
But if winning is the only thing on Melia’s mind, he’s been pretty good at that, too: his .719 winning percentage (9-2-5 record) ranks first on the club’s all-time charts since the dawn of the non-shootout era in 2000.
A Star Since 2015
The fact that Melia has yet to receive MLS All-Star recognition is nothing short of mystifying. Consider the following.
Saturday’s 0-0 stalemate gave Melia his 57th regular season shutout in a Sporting uniform. Since the start of 2015, the same year he burst onto the scene, no MLS goalkeeper has more clean sheets in regular season play. With 82 wins and 560 saves during that same time period, Melia sits third behind Stefan Frei and Luis Robles. Among goalkeepers with at least 10,000 minutes played, Melia’s 1.23 goals against average ranks seventh in league history—just 0.01 behind six-time MLS All-Star Nick Rimando.
But alas, we have yet to even mention Melia’s true calling card: his otherworldly ability to save penalty kicks.
Indeed, Melia boasts a ridiculous 6-0 record in penalty shootouts throughout his professional career. His penalty saving exploits have extended into the regular season, where he has conceded only 14 of 26 penalties faced as an MLS keeper. That penalty goals conceded rate of .538 is the lowest in MLS history among players who have faced at least 10 penalties. Since 2015, Melia’s 11 penalty saves in the regular season are five more than any other keeper. He is, objectively, the league’s PK king.
Sporting Legend in the Making
The course of Melia's career fatefully changed two days before Christmas at the end of 2014 when he signed for Sporting. By May of the following year, he had landed his first starting job in MLS—a job he has yet to relinquish.
The New York native has won two Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup titles, led Sporting to five playoff appearances and become the club's all-time goalkeeping leader in appearances, wins, shutouts and saves—both in the regular season and in all competitions. He ranks second in goals against average and save percentage, trailing Nielsen and Meola by narrow margins, respectively.
Needless to say, Melia has achieved more than anyone would have imagined when his Kansas City tenure began in 2015. He has also shown no signs of slowing down—something that will delight Sporting fans as the push for an MLS Cup continues.
Melia and Sporting (11-4-6, 39 points) will rest and recover this week before returning to world-class Children's Mercy Park on Saturday for a pivotal Western Conference clash against the third-place Colorado Rapids (11-4-4, 37 points) at 8 p.m. CT.
Tickets for the marquee matchup are available at SeatGeek.com and the first 10,000 fans through the stadium gates will receive a vintage Sporting KC poster courtesy of match sponsor Children's Mercy. Saturday will also see Sporting celebrate Retro Night, featuring a wide selection of throwback merchandise from the Since '96 Collection (jersey, T-shirt, long sleeve T-shirt, jacket and headwear) and additional items with the classic Wiz logo and rainbow elements.
Bally Sports Kansas City, Bally Sports Midwest Plus, BallySports.com and the Bally Sports app will provide three hours of live coverage starting at 7:30 p.m. CT, while the Sporting KC app will deploy additional in-game updates and exclusive offers. Listeners can catch the action live locally on Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM, with The Final Whistle postgame show immediately following on 810 WHB.