When longtime backup goalkeeper Tim Melia stepped between the posts for his Sporting Kansas City debut on May 3, 2015, few could have envisioned how the next four years would unfold.
At the time, Melia had six total appearances in just as many MLS seasons and had yet to record his first league win or shutout.
Oh, how times have changed.
Two U.S. Open Cup titles. An MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award. Four straight trips to the playoffs. And on Saturday, Melia became the team’s winningest goalkeeper ever.
Sporting Kansas City cruised past Vancouver Whitecaps FC by a 3-0 scoreline at BC Place, giving Melia win No. 58 in the regular season and vaulting him to the summit of the club’s all-time charts ahead of Jimmy Nielsen. Melia had to work for his 43rd career clean sheet, making a season-high six saves, as Sporting secured their second straight shutout victory and moved within four points of playoff positioning in the Western Conference.
SPORTING KC: MOST GOALKEEPING WINS IN MLS REGULAR SEASON
Not surprisingly, the always-humble Melia reacted to his milestone achievement by deflecting credit onto his teammates and coaches. That seems fair enough, as a well-organized Sporting side kept Vancouver off the scoreboard after blanking the Chicago Fire one week earlier.
“I owe it all to Peter (Vermes) and this club, which has given me so much,” Melia said postgame. “The players in front of me have given me an opportunity to achieve these goals, but I hope there’s a lot more to come.”
Indeed, there just may be more to come—especially if Sporting continues to click on the defensive end.
Take a look at each of Sporting’s four MLS shutouts this year, and one trend becomes apparent: continuity on the backline.
Melia anchored a starting lineup on Saturday that was unchanged from Sporting’s 1-0 defeat of Chicago last weekend, marking the first time during an injury-plagued 2019 campaign that Manager Peter Vermes enjoyed the luxury of fielding the same starting lineup for back-to-back MLS matches.
That meant the backline of Botond Barath, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic and Graham Zusi once again started together, earning their fourth clean sheet in five regular season games as a defensive unit. In those five matches, Sporting are 4-0-1 with a 0.20 goals against average.
SPORTING KC: BACK FOUR OF BARATH, BESLER, SINOVIC AND ZUSI
(2019 MLS REGULAR SEASON)
|03/10/2019||PHILADELPHIA UNION||W 2-0|
|03/17/2019||at Colorado Rapids||T 1-1|
|06/23/2019||at Columbus Crew SC||W 1-0|
|07/06/2019||CHICAGO FIRE||W 1-0|
|07/13/2019||at Vancouver Whitecaps FC||W 3-0|
"I think the most important thing for us is gaining three points. That’s the biggest thing," Vermes assessed after the match. "I tell the guys all the time, we can't worry about what everybody else is doing. We just have to focus on ourselves. You can sit at home and hope that everybody loses but that’s not reality. If we’re just taking care of our business, then we have a good shot."
Sporting have taken care of business in two straight games and have made a habit of doing so against Canadian opposition.
Saturday's result—highlighted by an own goal and strikes from Felipe Gutierrez and Gerso Fernandes—gave Sporting 30 total regular season wins against the Canadian trio of Vancouver, Montreal Impact and Toronto FC. No other MLS club has more victories versus Canadian opponents.
Moreover, Sporting's 12 regular season wins on Canadian soil are now tied for the most among American MLS clubs with D.C. United
MOST WINS AGAINST CANADIAN OPPOSITION
(MLS REGULAR SEASON, ALL-TIME)
|New York Red Bulls||27||58||27-17-14|
New England Revolution
Columbus Crew SC
MOST WINS IN CANADA AMONG U.S.-BASED CLUBS
(MLS REGULAR SEASON, ALL-TIME)
|Seattle Sounders FC||10||23||10-6-7|
|Columbus Crew SC||8||28||8-11-9|
|New England Revolution||8||29||8-12-9|
With consecutive clean sheet wins in the bag, Sporting (6-7-7, 25 points) will return to Children's Mercy Park on Saturday for a gargantuan showdown with FC Dallas (8-8-5, 29 points) at 7:30 p.m. CT. The Texas outfit sits four points ahead of Sporting and occupies the seventh and final playoff spot in the West, giving this all-important matchup potential postseason implications.
Tickets for Saturday's contest are available at SeatGeek.com and fans are encouraged to arrive early for the pre-match induction ceremony of former great Josh Wolff, who will become the newest member of the Sporting Legends hall of honor.