Tim Melia’s journey through professional soccer hasn’t always been easy. Maybe that’s what has made his recent success even more special for the former East Islip High School standout.
Melia, who just finished his third season with Sporting KC, was recently named Major League Soccer Goalkeeper of the Year. Not too shabby for a player who had early stops with the Long Island Rough Riders (2007), Rochester Rhinos (2008-10) and Charleston Battery (2010).
“It wasn’t always the greatest road — there were a lot of ups and downs,” Melia said. “There were times I wasn’t sure if it was going to work out, but I continued to work hard.”
The low point according to Melia was being cut by Chivas USA in 2014 after he spent three seasons as a backup goalie.
“I knew I could play in the MLS,” said Melia, who is tied for fifth in Suffolk high school boys soccer with 31 career shutouts. “I could have gone down a level or two, but that wasn’t my goal. I told myself, ‘All right, let’s move one more time, and put everything I have into this. If it doesn’t work out, I did everything in my power I could.’ ”
The former Great River resident said he relied heavily on his family during that difficult time, especially his wife, Kristen.
“Never once did she tell me to think about retiring,” Melia said. “She is always there to listen and move. If I didn’t have her support, as well as my family, I don’t think I would have had the success that I’ve had.”
That success started in 2015 when Melia went 11-8-4 in 23 starts, including eight shutouts, and was named the MLS Comeback Player of the Year. This season, he had MLS career-highs in starts (31), wins (12), shutouts (10), saves (91), and minutes (2,759). Melia led the best defense in the MLS (29 goals allowed) with a 0.78 goals against average (for goalkeepers with at least 15 regular-season appearances), a 78.4 save percentage. He helped SKC win the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
“This is the culmination of a lot different things that I’ve worked very hard toward,” said Melia, who has a 4-month-old daughter, Rowan. “It was never necessarily a goal of mine to win an individual award. For me, it’s all about what the team accomplishes.”
Melia was a member of the East Islip’s 2001 state Class A championship team, and was a Newsday All-Long Island first-team goalkeeper in 2002 and 2003 for coach Ray Lang.
“There was always a standard and mentality of winning at East Islip,” Melia said. “I’ve played a lot of places, but that’s where I learned to compete and win.”
Even as an underclassman, Lang knew Melia was a unique talent.
“You could tell he had something special,” said Lang, who guided EI to a state title in his first season as coach in 2001. “Throughout his career, he always persevered and kept working hard.
“He’s made me, and East Islip, very proud. Beyond that, he’s a special person. He deserves this and he’s earned this.”
Although a hamstring strain forced Melia to miss the last few games of the regular season and a knockout-round playoff loss to Houston, the 31-year-old is already preparing for next season.
“I’m pretty determined when I set my mind to something,” Melia said. “I knew if I worked hard enough and put the time in, I was capable of being a very productive goalkeeper in the MLS.”