Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Tim Melia has been named the TheCup.us Player of the Tournament for his performance in the club’s march to their third Open Cup title in the last six years and fourth overall.
Melia posted a 0.35 goals against average, including three shutouts, while going 4-0-1 (1-0 in PKs) in the tournament. He allowed two goals in five matches, a total of 510 minutes. Melia also extended his personal unbeaten streak in the tournament to 13 matches (11-0-2, 2-0 in PKs) dating back to 2010.
Melia was also named Player of the Round for the final, the second time he’s won the award. His previous award was for the final of the 2015 tournament.
Lower Division Player of the Tournament winner Mitch Hildebrandt and his FC Cincinnati teammate Djiby Fall finished second and third in the voting, respectively. Defender Ike Opara, Melia’s teammate with Sporting KC, finished fourth.
The award is voted on by the staff of TheCup.us and a select panel from the North American Soccer Reporters.
In the locker room after the final, captain Matt Besler talked about Melia’s importance to the club.
“He’s been a rock all year long,” Besler said. “We have had to lean on him for so many games. Tonight was another game we had to lean on him. He is a confident presence back there for us. I’m just very happy for him because he deserves all the credit he is going to get and I just hope he can continue winning championships for us. I hope I can continue playing with him behind me.”
Sporting’s run to the Final began where it would eventually ended. They hosted Minnesota United at Children’s Mercy Park and had no trouble with the MLS expansion side, winning 4-0. The Kansas City backline was so strong that Melia didn’t have to make a single save to earn the shutout.
After a 2-0 road shutout of the Houston Dynamo (2 saves), Kansas City hosted the defending Open Cup champions FC Dallas in the Quarterfinals.
Melia told TheCup.us the biggest moment of the tournament, besides lifting the trophy, was that victory in the quarterfinal.
“For us, the biggest moment was the Dallas game,” Melia said. “We lost Seth (Sinovic) pretty early on … and it was a game that we really had to rally and come together as a team and we were up against it. Dallas is a very good team, a very good attacking team and we shut them down for 120 minutes and ended up opening up the game at the end. I think that was a turning point for us.”
Sinovic was sent off in the 15th minute of the match, receiving a straight red card (the first of his professional career) after tripping Dallas forward Michael Barrios and being ruled to have denied an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. The match remained scoreless until stoppage time for the first extra time period. Latif Blessing scored twice and Daniel Salloi added a third to power Sporting KC to a 3-0 victory and a berth in the semifinals.
According to Melia, the death of team co-owner Neal Patterson two days before the game provided an extra push.
“Something that we played with a lot of pride after one of our ownership passing away in the middle of that too was important to us,” said Melia, who finished the tournament with six career Open Cup clean sheets.
After giving up a 4th minute goal to Danny Hoesen in the Semifinals, Melia kept the San Jose Earthquakes off the scoresheet for the remaining 116 minutes as the match had to be decided by penalty kicks. Melia only had to make two saves to send Kansas City to the Final and improve his career PK shootout record to 4-0. No goalkeeper in the Modern Era has won more than two Open Cup shootouts in a career.
In the championship game against the New York Red Bulls, Melia made six saves to help Sporting Kansas City lift the trophy, 2-1. Melia would have ended the tournament with a shutout, but after making a late save, Bradley Wright-Phillips pounced on the rebound at close range and cut the lead in half. With the win, Melia won his second Open Cup title (2015) and became just the fourth goalkeeper in the Modern Era to win multiple finals.
Melia’s 13-game unbeaten streak in the Open Cup dates back to the quarterfinal round in 2010, when he was with the Charleston Battery. When asked if he treated cup games differently, he said no.
“It’s the same for every game,” Melia said. “Cup games, I guess there’s a little bit more on the line, there’s that desperation aspect of it that there isn’t, at times, in the regular season. Sometimes, you’re on the road, I mean, you’re taking a 0-0 draw, you’re trying to get some points accumulated, where the cup games are just gotta advance by any means. The score’s irrelevant. Plays are irrelevant. Whatever happens, you’ve just gotta come out on the right side.”
Melia also said his approach is a reflection of the club’s philosophy of taking every tournament seriously.
“We put out our strongest teams at the time that are healthy and in form,” Melia said, “And things like that get really important in the later parts of this tournament.”
With this trophy, Melia became the third goalkeeper in club history (joining Tony Meola and Jimmy Nielsen) to win two major trophies. After the final, manager Peter Vermes was asked about Melia’s legacy with the club.
“Let’s talk about it when he’s done,” Vermes said. “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. It’s so obvious. And no disrespect to the rest of the goalkeepers in the league, but he has been lights out.”