KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Even though Sporting Kansas City’s No. 1 goalkeeper job is now clearly his, Tim Melia has no plans to change his mindset.
“You can't be lackadaisical,” Melia said during the club's weekly news conference. “You have to approach every game as if you're going to be the starter, if you're the first, second, third, fourth goalkeeper. If you just keep preparing yourself like that, when your opportunity comes, you'll be ready for it.”
Four matches into his stint as Sporting's starter, a status solidified when off-season signing Luis Marin left the club to return to his native Chile, Melia has yet to lose in goal. Going into Friday night's home match against FC Dallas, he has two shutouts and a 0.75 goals-against average – but those statistics mean nothing, he said, if he can't keep up his run of form.
“Luis' departure is not going to change my approach, by any means, to how I prepare mentally or physically or studying tape or anything like that," Melia said. "I need to make sure that I continue and keep playing the best I can to my ability, because you're only as good as your last game, because this is a club where results come first and everyone is interchangeable.”
“Playing with the caliber of goalkeeper of Nick Rimando, Dan Kennedy – those are very good goalkeepers,” he said. “You look at somebody like Rimando, who's been a starter since he was 18 years old, and that's hard. He's just super consistent all the time, and you can learn from that.
“Dan's positioning is very aggressive. We would always talk about how being in that more aggressive position made it easier to deal with things that are in front of you, and also there's no angle for people to shoot at.”
Melia's work ethic off the pitch enables him to command the 18-yard box – and beyond – during matches, manager Peter Vermes said earlier in Thursday's news conference.
“It comes because he's so powerful,” Vermes said. “I think his nickname in the team may be 'The Hulk' because he's a strong cat. He works hard in the weight room, and because of that, he's very explosive. And he needs to be, in his position. When you have control of your body, you're pretty confident with it as well. When he comes out of his goal, he's like a cat off the line.”
Melia laughed when he heard the nickname, but he's also serious about that hard-charging approach.
“I'm going to be extremely aggressive,” he said. “I want to control my area. I want to be the type of goalkeeper where my defenders and my team knows I'm behind them. I can attempt to bail them out, or be behind them on a cross or a corner and just be back there for them.
“I think it just gives the team confidence, allows us to play just a little bit higher, allows our wingers to be a little more aggressive and know that if there is something played in behind, that I'll be there to protect the team the best I can.”
And in turn, Melia trusts his teammates – even with Sporting's roster deeply depleted by injury and international absence – to protect him, as they did in allowing only one shot on goal in last weekend's scoreless draw at Seattle.
“I can't speak highly enough about them,” he said. “The guys really do – and I keep saying it – they do such a great job protecting me: their movements to get into guys' heads early, getting into the opposing attackers' heads early and let them know that they're going to have to battle and compete for every space that they want is just so good.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.