Sporting Kansas City will play for a spot in the Western Conference final on Thursday against Minnesota United (7:30 p.m. CT | FOX), but would not be there without goalkeeper Tim Melia's heroics. Saving each of the three penalties San Jose Earthquakes took in the teams' Round One match, adding to his reputation as an expert at saving penalties. Melia, though, does not exactly see it that way.
In an interview with ESPN's Jeff Carlisle, Melia downplayed that reputation. "I think it's an interesting skill set, but I don't think you can be 'good' at penalties," he said. "I think it's just something where you come out on the right side of it. I think I've had a little bit of fortune."
Melia did not give away tricks of the trade, saying he tries "to pick up on anything I can get" when preparing for penalties, and that shooters only "sometimes" have tells. He did, though, note how shooting first can tilt the dynamic of a shootout — SKC's Johnny Russell went first and converted, which put pressure on Oswaldo Alanis to convert for the Earthquakes.
"The next shooter is a little bit more tense," Melia said. "More, 'I was going to aim directly in the corner, but now I'm going to shy a little bit towards the middle to make sure that I give myself a [chance]."
Even if Melia is modest about his abilities, his record speaks for itself: he's a perfect 6-0 in penalty shootouts, and ranks joint third with Joe Cannon for all-time penalty saves in MLS. It makes him a massive asset for an SKC side looking to win their second MLS Cup.