Sporting won without playing on Friday night, but it was nice to win by winning on Sunday afternoon. The big news, perhaps even bigger than the 1-0 win over Chicago, was the goalkeeping change. Tim Melia got the start over the struggling Marin. I've mentioned more than once that I doubt whether Melia can really take this team where we want to be, but he kept a clean sheet yesterday, which made for a pleasant change. Sporting Fandom has enthused all over the Twitter Machine about how well Melia performed, and he certainly did well enough. I still have my worries about Melia, though.
We all love a good underdog story, but there are reasons why the underdog winning out makes a great tale: underdogs usually don't win, not due to a lack of effort or desire but because of a lack of sheer skill and talent. It's not fair, but elite athletics requires a certain amount of raw talent that most of us simply aren't born with, and no amount of desire or effort can change that. I can't say Tim Melia wasn't born with that kind of talent--although I know that I wasn't--but I can say that every single manager in MLS thought that Melia didn't quite have that kind of talent last season when he was the 'pool keeper' for the league instead of being on a roster.
Of course, you can argue (and I almost want to) that Melia's background is exactly what you would expect of a talented guy who's a late bloomer that fell through the cracks. Being the pool keeper isn't as good as being on a team's roster, but it does mean that you're the very next guy on the list--so it's not like he was unappreciated last year. Heck, Vermes evidently spotted him when his services were needed during the Great Sporting Injury Calamity of '14, and that makes the story even better. Plus, before being the pool keeper, Melia was a member of Chivas USA, a team so weirdly terrible that the league closed it down; even a great player would struggle to look decent playing for Chivas, so you can't hold his failure to break through from there against him.
So, maybe Melia is Jimmy II after all? Probably not, but at least he turned in a good debut performance. I watched him warm up with a keen interest, and his struggles to catch warmup shots worried me (and still does). Perhaps that explains why Melia punched everything he could in the box, opting to catch only the balls that were in on his body. That was an effective strategy yesterday, but I do worry that after teams watch video of yesterday's performance those punched balls will be launched right back goalward on set pieces.
That's all a lot of handwringing over the goalkeeping in a clean sheet victory, however. Bottom line: Melia was good enough for the win. I expect he'll be back in goal next weekend.
Speaking of bottom lines, from my vantage in the West Stand, Chicago's defensive strategy seemed to amount to draping multiple bodies on both Dwyer and Nemeth. The statistics for those two guys may look unimpressive, but if they continue to occupy such significant numbers of defenders someone else will get opportunities to score for Sporting. I figured the someone else would be Zusi or Feilhaber, but yesterday it was Nagamura. Hey, that wasn't what I expected, but it was effective. Also, in addition to Naga's unexpected heading proficiency, that was a great ball from Anibaba for the assist, and a darn good ball from Zusi to Anibaba to set the goal up. That bit of attacking flow, as well as a few others that didn't quite work out, are encouraging signs for this offense.
The worry of the match, other than my future goalkeeping misgivings that may or may not come to pass, is the Curse of the Left Back. This time Seth Sinovic started but couldn't finish the match after reclaiming his starting role from de Jong (due to his own injury issues). Once again the rookie Dia looked good finishing off the match, but leaning on a rookie in the defense is a scary proposition. As it was, even before Seth had to depart with injury the defense looked a bit ragged at times. Perhaps the raggedness is due to Carrasco, our first choice defensive midfielder, being suspended for losing his cool in Houston. Mustivar was effective enough filling in for Carrasco, but I wouldn't expect that performance to lay claim to the starting spot. Still, I'll take raggedly effective.
Even with my niggling worries, I left Sporting Park feeling good about the win. Winning with a new goalkeeper, with your preferred defensive midfielder suspended, and with the revolving door at left back still spinning makes for a good day's work all by itself.
Onward to DC!