Melia stands tall again in SKC's Open Cup win: "He deserves so much credit"

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Tim Melia’s first rule of Tim Melia: You don’t talk about Tim Melia.

Perhaps that’s overstating things a bit. Still, after joining the two-cups club with Sporting Kansas City, the league-pool-goalkeeper-turned-star isn’t yet ready to do any musing about his place in club history.

“Not even a little bit,” Melia said with a smile after backstopping Sporting to a 2-1 victory over the New York Red Bulls in Wednesday night’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final. “You know that answer asking that question. I think it’s just super important for our club at this point.

Melia, who won a shootout against Philadelphia in the 2015 Open Cup final, joins Tony Meola (MLS Cup 2000, Open Cup 2004) and Jimmy Nielsen (Open Cup 2012, MLS Cup 2013) as the only ‘keepers to backstop Kansas City to two knockout titles. He’s not ready to call it good, though.

“I still consider myself young enough in the goalkeeper world,” he said. “I hope I’m here for a very long time and I have a lot of years to play still – so I’ll think about that when I’m getting ready to stop playing.”

That makes sense. Where Meola and Nielsen both earned their second cup titles late in their careers – Nielsen’s shootout victory against Real Salt Lake in that 2013 MLS Cup final came in his last match before retirement – Melia is 31, hitting his prime in both age and form.

Manager Peter Vermes is similarly reticent to speculate on Melia’s legacy – and for the same reason.

“Let’s talk about it when he’s done,” Vermes told reporters after Sporting won their fourth cup final of his managing tenure. “He’s playing really well, that’s what I would say. He’s playing really well. He’s taken such a big step, especially this year, in that he’s played. It’s so obvious. And no disrespect to the rest of the goalkeepers in the league, but he has been lights out.

“Hopefully that continues because as much as we won tonight, and this will be a good night to celebrate, we’ve got a big game Sunday [against the LA Galaxy] (2 pm ET; FOX in US | MLS LIVE in Canada) to get ready for.”

Center back and captain Matt Besler wasn’t shy about bragging on Melia, though.

“He’s been a rock all year long,” Besler said. “We’ve had to lean on him for so many games. Tonight was another game we had to lean on him. He’s a confident presence back there for him. I’m happy for him. He deserves all the credit he’s going to get, and I hope he can continue winning championships for us. I hope I can continue playing with him behind me.”

And Melia belongs right in the conversation when people talk about the best ‘keepers in club history, veteran winger-turned-fullback Graham Zusi said on Tuesday.

“For me, no doubt about it,” Zusi said. “Tim’s the best goalkeeper I’ve played with. I know he doesn’t like to get a lot of praise, but he deserves so much of the credit for what we’ve been able to do this year.”

Vermes didn’t know Melia would rise to this stature when he brought in the ‘keeper – who had been stuck first behind Nick Rimando at RSL and then Dan Kennedy at now-defunct Chivas USA – for depth in an injury-plagued 2014 season. But he liked what he saw well enough to offer him a contract before the 2015 campaign.

“From a shot-stopping [standpoint] and those types of things, yes,” Vermes said, when asked whether he saw this sort of potential in Melia. “Where he’s become really good is with his feet and in our model of play, the way that we want to play. He was excellent.”

Melia, who won the starting role early in the 2015 season over Chilean Luis Marin, has continued to repay that confidence.

“I owe it all to these guys,” he said. “I’ve said this a hundred times. Without these players, these coaches and this club – these guys put me on the map. I’m forever appreciative.”