Tim Melia departed for the Sporting Kansas City locker room shortly after the halftime whistle, and a portion of the Sporting Park crowd behind him rose to its collective feet.
The chants of his name started shortly thereafter, and although the fans didn’t quite pronounce “Melia” correctly, they offered him a memorable moment in his first appearance with the club.
It likely won’t be his last.
Melia posted the first shutout of his MLS career Sunday, and Paulo Nagamura supplied a 75th-minute goal to lift Sporting KC to a 1-0 victory against the Chicago Fire in front of 19,581 fans at Sporting Park.
“Pretty damn close to perfect,” midfielder Benny Feilhaber said, assessing Melia’s performance.
In his sixth MLS season — a tenure previously defined more by its spectating than time on the field — Melia picked up the first victory of his career.
On Sunday, he was asked to fill in for a struggling Luis Marin, who allowed six goals over the past two matches. Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes described Marin has a player in need of a mental break, and he didn’t commit to a starter for next week’s match against D.C. United.
But this much is evident: Marin’s mental break offered Melia with an opportunity, and he didn’t waste it.
He was tested Sunday. Early, too.
In the 13th minute, he dived to stone an open look from Fire forward Guly do Prado. Five minutes later, he denied a point-blank header from defender Eric Gehrig.
“Being a backup goalkeeper, you have to prepare (as) if you’re playing every game,” Melia said. “But that becomes very hard over long periods of time.”
Melia started Sunday for his first MLS appearance in exactly one year. He spent last season without a professional home, serving as the league’s pool goalkeeper. In other words, he offered little more than a safety net for MLS teams who keepers were injured.
That led to a four-game stint with Sporting KC, whose goalkeepers Eric Kronberg and Andy Gruenebaum dealt with injuries last summer.
But like most of his career, Melia didn’t feature in a match. He simply watched. And waited.
If there was any rust Sunday, it didn’t show. He made three saves for the victory.
“I thought he did fantastic,” striker Dom Dwyer said. “That was a performance we needed.”
Indeed, as the goalkeeping showed a significant improvement Sunday, the offense faded.
The service set up quality looks for much of the day. But Nagamura’s goal notwithstanding, the finishing left much to be desired.
Feilhaber, the MLS assists leader with five this season, did all he could to add to that total.
But the finishing piece was absent on each occasion. Feilhaber elevated a pass to Dwyer, whose header flew over the target. He sent a free kick toward a dangerous area, and watched Kevin Ellis’ shot click off the crossbar. He lofted a pass to set up Krisztian Nemeth in front of goal, but Nemeth whiffed on his collection.
Then Nagamura struck.
After coming off the bench earlier in the second half, Nagamura found an open seam down the middle of the Fire defense, and defender Jalil Anibaba sent a perfect pass to set up the goal.
Asked how long it had been since he headed in a goal, Nagamura smiled and replied, “Thirty-two years.”
“It came at a great time,” he added.
For Sporting KC. And for Tim Melia.
“I’ll go back in a couple of days and assess my performance and do all that stuff,” Melia said. “But it’s obviously one I’ll remember for a long time.”
Sporting Kansas City 1, Fire 0
CHICAGO: Sean Johnson, Jeff Larentowicz, Eric Gehrig (Lovel Palmer, 85th), Joevin Jones, Adailton, Matt Polster, Harry Shipp, Shaun Maloney, Chris Ritter (Kennedy Igboananike, 77th), David Accam, Guly (Quincy Amarikwa, 72nd).
KANSAS CITY: Tim Melia, Seth Sinovic (Amadou Dia, 77th), Jalil Anibaba, Kevin Ellis, Matt Besler, Soni Mustivar (Jacob Peterson, 85th), Roger Espinoza (Paulo Nagamura, 65th), Benny Feilhaber, Graham Zusi, Krisztian Nemeth, Dom Dwyer.
Chicago: None. Kansas City: 1, Sporting Kansas City, Nagamura 1 (Anibaba, Zusi), 75th minute.
Shots on goal
Chicago: Adailton, 32nd; Ritter, 58th.
Kansas City: Sinovic, 38th; Nagamura, 90th+.
Chicago: Accam, 89th.
Kansas City: None.
Referee: Jose Carlos Rivero.
Assistant referee: Jeff Hosking.
Assistant referee: Eric Weisbrod.
4th official: Nima Saghafi.
Announced attendance: 19,581.