And then there were four. It's time to get hyped for the Conference Championships, with the first legs kicking off Sunday, Nov. 25. Over the next week, we're going to dive deep into New York Red Bulls vs. Atlanta United and Sporting KC vs. Portland Timbers to see where each side can find an edge in their matchup. With the help of columnists Matt Doyle and Bobby Warshaw, we'll parse all facets of both Conference Championship clashes, one day at a time. Today, we start with the goalkeepers.
A starting position in MLS wasn't handed to either and both found opportunities hard to come by early in their pro careers, but both persevered and are lining up opposite one other in the Western Conference Championship as Sporting Kansas City take on the Portland Timbers.
In Melia's first five seasons in the league, he made a grand total of six appearances. But in 2015 he started 23 games and won MLS Comeback Player of the Year. His ascension didn't stop there, as he won 2017 MLS Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year as well as a spot in the MLS Best XI that season. He was just as good in 2018, finishing second in shutouts (13) and fourth in goals-against average (1.18) for 'keepers with at least 15 games played.
Attinella, meanwhile, had a bit more playing time than Melia before his first real chance last season with the Timbers, starting the team's last nine matches. This season, he had to fight back from a late-season injury to be fit for the playoffs, but here he is. Attinella had the league's third-best GAA (1.05) and seven shutouts in his 22 matches.
According to American Soccer Analysis, Melia had the fifth-best mark for goals conceded vs. expected goals conceded at -4.88. Essentially, the numbers argue that based on the shots against him, he should have conceded 4.88 more goals on average based on the quality of chances he faced. Attinella, in about 1,200 fewer minutes, accrued an -3.18, meaning the numbers argue he should have given up 3.18 more goals than he did.
Not to forget: Melia has been revered for his penalty-kick prowess, having saved seven of the last spot kicks against him in the regular season over the last two seasons. Not bad. But Attinella saved a pen in the Timbers' shootout victory over the Sounders last round, too.
Which side has the gloved advantage?
For the fourth straight season Melia was one of the top three ’keepers in MLS, and he has no obvious weaknesses in his game. One obvious strength? He’s a master stopper of penalties – and SKC sure wish they had him healthy back in 2015.
Attinella, like Melia, definitely served his time and learned the ropes as a backup in MLS. Now that he’s finally won a starting job he hasn’t been as dominant as his SKC counterpart, but has generally done well.
We know Melia at this point and the bar he sets. Even on what seemed like a down year defensively for SKC, they still finished third in the league in goals conceded and kept 13 clean sheets. To boot, the back four in front of Melia this year showed more cracks than they have in a while.
During the spring and early summer, this conversation would have been much closer at least. Attinella was undefeated in his 14 starts since entering the lineup, conceding just 11 goals in that span; he was making big, timely saves and emerging as a darkhorse candidate for Goalkeeper of the Year. But then Portland hit a rough patch and Attinella missed a month due to injury. He hasn't looked as reliable since. He still has the ability to win a game for his team, but it's tough to take him over Melia.