As its search for a significant change to the offense persists, Sporting Kansas City solidified stability on the back end.
Sporting KC has signed goalkeeper Tim Melia and defender Ike Opara to multi-year contract extensions, sources told The Star this week.
Melia’s new contract will run through 2020 with a club option for 2021. The pact with Opara will conclude after the 2019 season with a club option for 2020, the sources said.
The contracts for both players were set to expire after the 2018 season, contributing to a potential franchise-shifting winter. Matt Besler, Graham Zusi and Roger Espinoza remain scheduled to be out of contract next offseason.
Never miss a local story.
The process of retaining two of the pieces of that core group began with players who were deemed the best at their positions in 2017. Melia was named the MLS goalkeeper of the year and Opara its defender of the year.
Like many goalkeepers Melia, 31, is a late-bloomer. But unlike many of them, Melia once served as an MLS pool keeper, essentially up for grabs for any team in the league.
Sporting KC pounced in 2014 out of necessity — it had two players injured — but it signed Melia the following offseason out of eagerness. He has been among the league’s most consistent keepers since assuming the starting job in the middle of the 2015 season.
That culminated in a career-best campaign in 2017, in which Melia led the league with a 78.4 save percentage and was second with 10 shutouts.
“I think as you play games and you become older, you become more confident in yourself and your abilities,” he said earlier this offseason. “I really enjoyed the way we played (in 2017). I’m looking forward to continuing along this path that we’re playing. It’s a style that I think benefits me.”
Opara, 28, has enjoyed a similar under-the-radar narrative, but for entirely different reasons. His career was defined by season-ending injuries.
In 2017, a fully-healthy season sparked his best play. Opara was one of the mainstays of a defense that led MLS in goals allowed. He was on the field for all 11 of the club’s shutouts this season and started a career-high 30 games. He had never started more than 16 matches prior to year.
Opara is currently with the United States men’s national team for its annual January camp, his first national team call-up.
“I wanted to change the narrative on my career,” Opara told The Star in an interview in November. “I’ve always thought I had that ability, but so many unfortunate events have slowed me down. When you take a step back and look at it, the odds weren’t really in your favor.”