As momentum builds toward Major League Soccer’s 26th season in 2021, Sporting Kansas City players and coaches will look to lay the foundations for another successful campaign when preseason training unfolds this month in Arizona.
With newcomers joining familiar faces for the 2021 preseason presented by Children’s Mercy, SportingKC.com has launched the “Sporting Preseason Spotlight” web series to acquaint supporters with the goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and forwards who will help Sporting Kansas City compete for silverware in 2021. To read up on every player and visit the series archive as it expands, head to SportingKC.com/Spotlight.
The illustrious history of Sporting Kansas City has seen a number of goalkeepers shine between the posts. Tony Meola was a colossal figure in the early days of MLS, leading the club to its first MLS Cup. Kevin Hartman made a three-year stop in Kansas City when the Wizards played at CommunityAmerica Ballpark. Jimmy Nielsen 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. In the six years since then, the goalkeeper has been the centerpiece of one of Major League Soccer's greatest stories. From League Pool Goalkeeper to MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, the late-blooming Melia is among the very best in the business.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a better underdog story. After beginning his pro career in the second division with the Rochester Rhinos in 2008 and 2009, Melia made the MLS jump to Real Salt Lake, where he backed up perennial MLS All-Star Nick Rimando. Following brief loan spells to the Charleston Batter and FC New York, Melia spent three seasons at now-defunct Chivas USA from 2012-2014. He made just six MLS appearances during that time, going without a win or a clean sheet, before serving as a League Pool Goalkeeper during the latter half of 2014.
The trajectory of Melia's career 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.
The 34-year-old started 24 matches in all competitions last year, including 20 appearances and an 11-5-3 record in the regular season with seven shutouts and a 1.06 goals against average. Melia's 2020 campaign will best be remembered for his penalty kick heroics. He led Sporting to shootout wins over Vancouver in the MLS is Back Tournament and San Jose in the MLS Cup Playoffs. The defeat of San Jose was the first 3-0 penalty shootout result in MLS history and the first time in which an MLS keeper has saved all three penalties he has faced.
Melia is inarguably the greatest penalty-saving keeper in MLS history, and the one prize that will cement his status as an all-time great would be an MLS Cup championship.
As the club's all-time goalkeeping leader in wins, saves, shutouts and appearances, he has achieved more than anyone would have imagined when his Kansas City tenure began in 2015. Any further achievements in 2021 and beyond will be icing on the cake.
Melia boasts a perfect and 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 goalkeepers who have faced at least 10 penalties.
He Said It
"What I’m most excited about this year—and I know it’s not going to happen right off the bat—but it’s getting fans back in the stadiums. The presences and atmosphere that fans bring to our games, they have no idea how much of an effect they have on players and results. The thing I’m looking forward to the most is getting the season going on the right foot but also being back in the environment we love to play in, especially at our stadium."
Melia speaking to media on March 2, 2021.
Did You Know?
Sporting have won six of their last seven shootouts dating back to the 2012 Open Cup Final, with Melia accounting for four of those six victories.
On Social Media
Fans can give Melia a follow on Twitter at @TimMelia28.