A strong sense of deja vu engulfed Providence Park on Sunday night as the first leg of the Western Conference Championship unfolded between Sporting Kansas City and the Portland Timbers.
The visitors had spent extended periods on the back foot, absorbing waves of pressure applied by an upstart Portland side, but resolute defending and standout goalkeeping from Tim Melia ultimately won out. And when referee Robert Sibiga blew his whistle for full time, the Providence Park scoreboard had an all-too-familiar look to it.
Timbers 0, Sporting KC 0.
Make no mistake: Sunday's hotly contested battle followed a script that has come to typify matches involving Sporting KC and Portland. Stout defending, full-blooded challenges, excellent goalkeeper saves and a dearth of goals characterized the first leg, just like they have come to define the series as a whole.
In the last 12 MLS meetings since 2014, the clubs have combined for just 16 goals. That's a paltry 1.33 goals per match. Sporting KC owns a 5-1-6 record during that stretch with a remarkable nine—yes, nine—shutouts.
SPORTING KC vs. PORTLAND TIMBERS
Last 12 MLS meetings: SKC leads 5-1-6 (10 GF, 6 GA)
|06/27/2014||Providence Park||Won 1-0|
|03/21/2015||Children's Mercy Park||Tied 0-0|
|09/09/2015||Providence Park||Tied 0-0|
|10/03/2015||Providence Park||Won 1-0|
|10/29/2015||Providence Park||Tied 2-2|
|07/31/2016||Children's Mercy Park||Won 1-0|
|08/07/2016||Providence Park||Lost 0-3|
|04/15/2017||Providence Park||Won 1-0|
|07/01/2017||Children's Mercy Park||Tied 1-1|
|06/09/2018||Providence Park||Tied 0-0|
|08/18/2018||Children's Mercy Park||Won 3-0|
|11/25/2018||Providence Park||Tied 0-0|
While the likes of Matt Besler, Ike Opara, Seth Sinovic and Graham Zusi all delivered solid performances on Sunday en route to the clean sheet, Melia has been the unquestioned ringleader of Sporting KC's defensive dominance against Portland over the last four years. As a slew of statistics plainly illustrate, the 32-year-old has been at his very best in this particular fixture.
Since joining Sporting KC in 2015, Melia has faced Portland eight times. In those games, he has totaled six shutouts, a 0.25 goals against average, a save percentage of 93.9 and a 3-0-4 record. He was not awarded a result when Sporting KC and Portland drew 2-2 in the 2015 Knockout Round, as he exited in the 84th minute with the game tied at 1-1.
"Tim has been very consistent for us for a long time," Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes said postgame. "These are the types of games that you expect and you want your number ones to play well, and I think all over the field we had that. I think Tim was on top of his game. He was very focused, very concentrated. It doesn’t surprise me because we’ve seen it [from him] a long time now.”
Indeed, no one has fallen victim to Melia's heroics quite like Portland. He has three shutouts against the Timbers this year alone, marking just the fourth time ever that Sporting KC has held opponents scoreless in in a season series of at least three MLS matches.
- 2000 vs. San Jose (4 regular season meetings)
- 2012 vs. New England (3 regular season meetings)
- 2015 vs. Portland (3 regular season meetings)
- 2018 vs. Portland (2 regular season meetings; 1 postseason meeting)
Perhaps most importantly, Sunday's stalemate sends the Western Conference Championship back to Kansas City for the decisive second leg with everything to play for. The monumental matchup at Children's Mercy Park will kick off at 8:30 p.m. CT, airing live on ESPN, ESPN Deportes, Sports Radio 810 WHB and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM. A limited number of tickets for the game remain available on SeatGeek.com.
Sporting KC can advance to MLS Cup 2018 with a win, while a loss would see Portland prevail on aggregate. Another 0-0 tie would force two 15-minute periods of extra time and, if necessary, penalty kicks. A regulation draw involving goals (1-1, 2-2, etc.) would see Portland prevail on the away goals tiebreaker.