KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Two teams, two Tims.
One is Tim Howard, American soccer icon and two-time World Cup veteran who came back to MLS last year after a lengthy career abroad.
This is, after all, a guy who laughed bemusedly at his 2015 MLS Comeback Player of the Year honor, noting that he’d never really had a high point before as a then-career backup and league pool ‘keeper.
“For me, nothing changes,” Melia told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday, three days before his club's nationally televised match against Howard’s Colorado Rapids on Sunday at Children's Mercy Park ( 7pm ET, FS1 in the US | MLS LIVE in Canada ).
“I think we've started off really well, but it's four games, which in the big picture doesn't mean a whole lot,” he said. “I think we're building a platform that's important. If we can be really difficult to score against, I think that will help us in the important parts of the season.”
Sporting have conceded just once in their opening four matches, and Melia has been a big reason why they are still unbeaten despite scoring just twice over that span. If he keeps it up for a full season after missing seven games with back problems in 2016, he could get his due as one of the league's elite 'keepers.
Which, true to Melia’s character, would be totally irrelevant.
“I don't care,” Melia said. “I believe that a goalie's only as good as the team in front of him. Shutouts are a team effort. Those are the types of things that I think will be better for everyone in the long run.”
It's not as though Melia is racking up easy clean sheets without ever having to make a save. He sits fifth in MLS with 13 stops going into the weekend, just four back of leader Bill Hamid of D.C. United.
“He's in a very good place,” manager Peter Vermes told MLSsoccer.com. “He's playing well. He's in good form in all aspects of his game – whether it's service in the box, whether it's shot-stopping on the line or making a decision to come off the line, he's been very good. And the other piece he's really good at is his distribution.”
Melia, who cheerfully acknowledges that he doesn't know how to self-promote – “nor will I ever,” he joked – is quick to deflect any plaudits.
“It's always game by game,” he said. “As a goalie, you're here one day and then something goes wrong, and it's your fault. So I just think you need to keep that even keel and maintain a consistent level to put the team in the best scenario.”
And that, he said, is what Sporting's field players have done for him.
“The type of shots that I've had to face this year is credit to our team,” he said. “They're always battling. They're always competing, and they're always making sure that whoever it is – an attacker, a fullback, whatever – isn't in a good position to take a shot on me.
“They have so much pressure on them that it's not easy to take a shot, so I think that's where the credit belongs.”
Melia is not the first ‘keeper to be successful in Kansas City, having won a shootout against the Philadelphia Union for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup title in 2015. He's just the first one not to augment his performances with an outsized personality.
Tony Meola was a celebrity on and off the pitch before he helped the then-Wizards to a Supporters' Shield-MLS Cup double in 2000 and recorded an extra-time shutout in Kansas City's 2004 US Open Cup Final victory.
Jimmy Nielsen was relatively unknown outside his native Denmark until he joined the club in 2010. But his tongue-wagging on-pitch antics, exuberant love for supporters and penchant for bright pink kits made him as beloved as did his shutout victories for the 2012 Open Cup championship and the 2013 MLS Cup title.
Although Melia doesn’t follow the Meola-Nielsen mold, he's no less capable of putting his stamp on a match with his athleticism and decision-making, manager Peter Vermes said.
“He's an explosive guy,” Vermes said. “He demonstrates that to the team based on his actions in play. But he's not a boisterous guy. Everybody has their own personality. They just have to make it work and be confident, and he's done both of those things.”
If he stays healthy this season, that even-keeled, quietly explosive approach could see Melia – whether he cares or not – land on the list of the league's best.
“For any goalkeeper, durability and consistency are the two most important things,” he said. “Regardless of the position, there's always that time when you don't feel 100 percent – and it's really difficult to feel 100 percent past the first game.”