Melia's masterpiece lifts Sporting KC to playoff win

By staff and wire reports
Sporting Kansas City players mob goalkeeper Tim Melia after Melia stopped all three penalty kicks in the shootout to lift his team to an MLS Western Conference playoff victory over the San Jose Earthquakes Sunday at Children's Mercy Park.

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Tim Melia has a knack for stopping penalty kicks.

But what the Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper did Sunday at Children’s Mercy Park was so rare that Sporting manager Peter Vermes had never seen it happen.

Melia stopped all three of San Jose's shootout attempts and Sporting Kansas City converted all of its tries to beat the Earthquakes on Sunday after they finished overtime tied at 3 in the first round of the Major Soccer League’s Western Conference playoffs.

Top-seeded Sporting advanced to face No. 4 Minnesota, a 3-0 winner later Sunday at home over No. 5 Colorado.

Vermes wasn’t surprised that Melia was able to make a save in the shootout. But he was surprised it was three.

“He's just really good at it. I've never seen that in my life. I've never seen a goalkeeper make the first three saves in penalty kicks. I've never witnessed it,” Vermes said. “It says a lot about Tim. He does this regularly. It's something special that he has. It really is. He's on a different level. I don't get surprised a lot, but I was surprised tonight.”

Melia downplayed his role in the win and gave credit to his teammates Johnny Russell, Ilie Sánchez and Khiry Shelton for converting their penalty kicks.

“No secrets to speak of,” Melia said of his ability to stop PKs. “It's a collective effort from everyone with a million different variables going into it and then just trying to execute it in the moment.”

Melia is 6-0 in shootouts. The 34-year old goalkeeper went into the match allowing goals on just 54% (14 of 26) of the penalty kicks he's faced, the lowest percentage in MLS history. 

Melia was just happy he could impress his coach.

“Any time you can impress Peter, that's a good thing because it doesn't happen very often,” he said. “It should be less about me and more about the fact that our guys stepped up in a big-time moment and hit three very good penalties. I understand I made the saves and they're going to talk about that, but the quality of our shooters is special. As a goalkeeper, you just tell yourself when you have the talent that you do, you just have to make one save and the guys are going to do the job for you and all three of them made it.”

Gianluca Busio scored in the first minute of stoppage time to give Sporting Kansas City a 3-2 lead, but Chris Wondolowski scored about six minutes later, heading home a high cross to the far post by Cristian Espinoza to force extra time. It was just the second career playoff goal for Wondolowski, who has an MLS-record 166 career goals in the regular season.

Vermes was also impressed with the play of the 18-year-old Busio.

“When he came into the locker room after the game, I said to him, 'I can't say enough about your effort tonight,'” Vermes said. “Everybody always looks at the goals and the assists, but the work that he put into the game and understanding what I asked him to do. He did it for almost 120 minutes. The kid is something special.”

In the shootout, Russell opened the tiebreaker with a goal, Melia stopped Oswaldo Alanís, and Sánchez connected for Sporting. Jackson Yueill was stopped, Shelton scored, and Melia stopped Espinoza to end it.

Kansas City's Roger Espinoza opened the scoring in the fourth minute. Carlos Fierro answered for San Jose in the 22nd.

Shea Salinas scored in the 34th minute to give the Earthquakes a 2-1 lead.

Sánchez put away a corner kick by Busio in the 47th minute. It was the 10th goal off a corner kick by Sporting Kansas City this season, most in MLS.