Being a goalkeeper is a tough job. There is only one of them per team on the field at a given time, meaning the competition for the spot is fierce, and 'keepers are seldom substituted out during a game unless they are hurt.
From 2011 to 2014, Dan Kennedy was the undisputed No. 1 for Chivas USA. From 2012 to the middle of last year, Tim Melia was his main backup. Melia played several U.S. Open Cup games in 2012, as the Goats made a run to the semifinals (though Kennedy stepped up in the semifinal round, where they lost to the Seattle Sounders), and he played two MLS games each season he was with Chivas. His exit from the club was strange, as he was red carded in his final appearance, and (coincidentally or not) he was cut weeks later.
With Chivas, he seemed fine. In the Open Cup, he had a few shaky moments but kept a 100 percent record in that tournament, so all's well that ends well. In 2012 and 2013, he played the final two games of the season, after Chivas had nothing to play for and all enthusiasm to get results had flown out the window. As a result, his stats from those times are bad, but there was nothing to indicate Melia was a top 'keeper, either. Certainly nothing to demonstrate Melia should be the starter ahead of Kennedy.
But things have changed in a major way in 2015. Melia began the season as a backup again, for Sporting Kansas City, who he joined last year as an emergency pool GK after he got cut from Chivas, but after high-profile addition Luis Marin struggled in MLS, Melia got the nod and has not looked back. Meanwhile, Kennedy was the biggest prize in the Dispersal Draft after CUSA folded, and was taken by the team with the top pick, FC Dallas.
Kennedy was hurt to start the season and Chris Seitz played pretty well. Then Kennedy took over, but he's since suffered another injury and a 20-year-old Homegrown player, Jesse Gonzalez, has frankly played better and looks set to remain the starter for the foreseeable future.
It's possible that Kennedy's injuries have hampered his form this season, and maybe this is a one-off year of transition before he's back to his best. But his struggles have been apparent. He's not been bad enough that mistakes jump out at you, but he's not stepping up to make the miraculous save or cutting off shot attempts outright like he did with Chivas. He's been a guy who's dealt with on-field adversity really well, and to see him struggle at times for a vastly superior team is strange.
But the stranger thing is how good Melia has been with Sporting. Last week has to be a high point for him, as he saved two penalty kicks in KC's U.S. Open Cup final win, and then followed it up with a MLS Player of the Week performance, making six saves, on the road and on short rest, in a shutout win over Portland. It seems like these days he can't put a foot (or hand, I suppose) wrong, racking up saves by the bushel, and more importantly, helping deliver silverware to his side.
Of course, FC Dallas are going to the playoffs and maybe Kennedy will play a role in helping them win silverware. But he appears to be on the outside looking in, and if Gonzalez becomes the option, one wonders if DK will be looking for another team sooner than later. Meanwhile, if he can stay healthy, Sporting's No. 1 slot is locked up for Melia right now, and he's already got silverware, with a shot at MLS Cup also on the horizon for him.
It's a strange turn of events, for Melia to be near the top of the ranks of goalkeepers, and Kennedy to be near the bottom, but that's why they play the games. Maybe we're entering the era of Tim Melia as a dominant force in MLS, and if that's the case, good for him to persist as a backup for so long before getting his shot and running with it.
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