Tim Melia made his 100th appearance with Sporting Kansas City memorable with a career-high 10 saves.
Thing is, he didn’t even know he had reached either milestone until afterward.
“Of all the things that I’ve gone through in my career, I’m proud of the fact that I’m able to accomplish and have these statistics here,” the goalkeeper said in retrospect Wednesday. “This club is very special to me. This was the club that gave me the opportunity and stuck with me in good and bad times.”
Melia’s saves came in a 2-0 road victory over the LA Galaxy on Sunday. It was his second straight clean sheet and earned him MLS Player of the Week honors.
He even turned away Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the high-profile newcomer’s second MLS appearance.
“It’s a guy who has accomplished a ton in professional soccer. He’s obviously a huge talent, a world star, so to have an opportunity to play against him, it’s fun,” Melia said. “He came on later in the game and you could kind of feel the energy that he brought in when he got subbed in. I think it’s going to be good for the league and good for the LA Galaxy.”
While goalkeepers can feel momentum and use it, Melia said more of the credit for his performance Sunday goes to Sporting’s defense overall.
“I think that every shot as a goalkeeper that you save, you get a little bit more confident, you get a little more comfortable in your positioning, your decision-making becomes clearer,” he said. “But to be honest I didn’t feel like that in this game. I feel like I’m getting a ton of credit because of the statistics that were happening during the game, but I want to say all but one of those shots was from pretty far out. And that’s on our team. That’s because our team is doing such a good job defensively.”
Earlier this season, Kansas City faced questions about its defense after allowing nine goals in its first four matches. The team allowed just 29 goals all of last season, best in the league.
But a stellar attack has helped offset any defensive struggles the team might have had. Sporting sits atop the Western Conference at 4-1-1 with a conference-high 12 goals so far this season. Only Atlanta United (13) has more in MLS.
The two straight shutouts indicate a defense on the rebound.
“It’s way too early in the season. I think what’s most important, with just being an athlete, is kind of never being too high or too low, understanding that there’s going to be ebbs and flows to the season,” Melia said. “Our start was not acceptable by any means. Nine goals in four games is completely unacceptable and it’s not who we are.”
But he added: “Just because we had back-to-back shutouts doesn’t mean anybody’s comfortable. The reason we are getting those shutouts in the past two games is because of our commitment defensively. And that’s just not the goalkeeper, the back four, it’s the entire team.”
Melia, 31, is the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. Last season he had a career-high 12 wins, 10 shutouts, 91 saves and 31 starts. He led MLS with a 0.78 goals-against average and a 78.4 save percentage. He saved three penalty kicks.
Melia was also the league’s Comeback Player of the Year in 2015, his first season with Kansas City.
The 6-foot-1 keeper’s career started in 2010 when he was signed by Real Salt Lake – but he never appeared in a league match with the club. He played in six matches for Chivas from 2012 until he was waived in 2014.
Originally signed by Kansas City as backup to Luis Marin, Melia started the team’s ninth league match of 2015 and won the starting nod with shutouts in six of his first nine starts.
As far as goalkeepers go in Major League Soccer, Melia’s performance against the Galaxy (remarkably) didn’t even put him atop the saves list: That honor belongs to RSL’s Nick Rimando with 22 saves in five matches so far this season.
NYCFC’s Sean Johnson has 21 saves, while Melia and Minnesota’s Matt Lampson each have 20.
Game of the week
While on the topic of goalkeepers, Melia will face counterpart Stefan Frei when Kansas City hosts the Seattle Sounders on Sunday. The Sounders are still looking for their first win of the season with three losses.
The Zlatan effect
The Chicago Fire announced that Saturday’s game against the Galaxy at Toyota Park is a sellout. The match will be Ibrahimovic’s first on the road this season and he’ll be reunited with former Manchester United teammate Bastian Schweinsteiger, who now plays for the Fire.
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