Sporting KC Show Podcast: Shootout hero Tim Melia praises never-say-die attitude after wild win over San Jose

Running throughout the season on Sports Radio 810 WHB, the Sporting Kansas City Show is available on several podcast hubs including Spotify and iTunes as well as With Nate Bukaty, Carter Augustine and Aly Trost hosting the weekly program, Sporting fans have a place to go to catch up on club storylines, guest interviews and more.

Two days after stealing the headlines in Sporting Kansas City’s dramatic penalty shootout win over the San Jose Earthquakes in Round One of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, goalkeeper Tim Melia joined the Sporting Kansas City Show to reflect on one of the craziest playoff matches in league history.

Following a wild 3-3 draw in which Sporting and San Jose traded haymaker after haymaker, Melia delivered a heroic performance by becoming the first MLS goalkeeper to save all three spot kicks in a penalty shootout.

The 34-year-old Melia owns an astounding 6-0 record in penalty shootouts throughout his professional career, and his otherworldly display on Sunday has sent Sporting through to the Western Conference Semifinals where they will host rivals Minnesota United FC on Dec. 1 or 2 at Children’s Mercy Park.

Hosts Nate Bukaty, Carter Augustine and Jacob Peterson spent the first segment of Tuesday’s episode remarking on Melia’s uncanny penalty-saving exploits before welcoming the goalkeeper to the show.

“When we fell behind, we did a really good job as a group not to let our heads drop or become a team that was suddenly erratic,” Melia said of a Sporting side that trailed San Jose 2-1 at halftime. “To come out in the second half, get that early goal, get that go-ahead goal, and then get another gut punch at the very end from (Chris) Wondolowski—those are all really good learning experiences in the earlier rounds of the playoffs. That will help us come together as a team and strengthen our positioning if were in that situation in the next game. Those are really difficult hurdles to overcome in any game, and to do it in the playoffs is going to make us a stronger group.”

As the top seed in the Western Conference, and with 1-seed Philadelphia Union and 2-seed Toronto FC suffering Round One elimination in the Eastern Conference, Sporting Kansas City now holds homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. Melia is a major proponent of the single-game, single-elimination setup that MLS adopted for the postseason beginning last year.

“I love it—I personally think it was a really smart move from the league because it makes the game so much more exciting,” Melia said of the playoff format. “To have these one-off games makes the season more important because having homefield advantage is enormous in sports. It’s huge. If you can fight through the season and get homefield advantage, it makes a huge difference. I also love it because the games are just (wild) from minute one. That’s what we do this for. You can have a great season, but if you don’t perform in the playoffs, it’s almost a waste. I enjoy it and I’m looking forward to staying in it as long as we can.”

Melia also saved praise for 18-year-old midfielder Gianluca Busio—who on Sunday became the youngest player in MLS history to record a goal and an assist in a playoff game—as well as forward Khiry Shelton and veteran Roger Espinoza, both of whom played instrumental roles in the narrow victory.

“Busio is someone who has been given an opportunity this year, and everyone knows his quality and what he can do on the field. But then you have to go out and do it in big moments,” Melia said. “That’s about as big of a moment as you can put a young kid in…and to have the composure in that moment to take a touch to get himself open and freeze the goalkeeper, that’s just incredible.

“Khiry is so underrated and underappreciated, and I still think bringing him back was one of our best signings of the year. And then Roger is being Roger. He gets the early goal, but his work shows after the 70th minute when everyone else is tired and he’s just buzzing around breaking up plays and fighting and scrapping to help us get a result he’s so capable of getting us.”

Sunday’s encounter was understandably rife with storylines—one of them revolving around San Jose striker Chris Wondolowski. The 37-year-old forward is the all-time MLS leading goal scorer and put Sporting to the sword in second-half stoppage time, bagging a 97th minute equalizer to send the match into extra time.

Fans and pundits alike have drawn parallels to the careers of Wondolowski and Melia—two small-college players who began their professional careers in modest fashion as backups before developing into stars. The humble Melia, however, believes Wondolowski deserves a throne of his very own.

“Chris Wondolowski has done so much for this league, and he’s done it by working hard and being opportunistic,” Melia said. “At the end of the day, the guy is a phenomenal character within the team. You can’t find someone to say a bad thing about him and he’s got the most goals in MLS history. That’s the type of guy you want fighting for your team.

“That game is the epitome of what Wondolowski is. He had a late opportunity that didn’t go his way—I saved it—and two minutes later the guy is sticking a header in the back of the net to get his team into overtime. He’s had an amazing career, so you hope he continues to play because MLS needs characters and people just like that.”