Sporting KC’s Melia and Opara named to 2017 MLS Best XI

Tim Melia (left) and Ike Opara both earned the Best XI honors for the first time in their careers.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It appears Sporting Kansas City goalie Tim Melia and defender Ike Opara are as good at snatching up awards as they are at snatching soccer balls from opponents.

Melia and Opara received big honors Thursday for their performances during the regular season as both were named to the 2017 MLS Best XI. Melia and Opara both earned the Best XI honors for the first time in their careers.

“To be among the names on the Best XI is truly special,” Melia said. “It’s an honor to be selected the best at your position from peers you compete against throughout the season. While these awards mean a lot, my top priority is to win an MLS Cup with Sporting KC, and I’m excited to work toward that goal in 2018.”

Said Opara: “This is an honor that could have gone to anyone on our backline this season, and I’m grateful to be recognized by MLS. It’s an accomplishment that I will cherish, and I’m already looking forward to next season and challenging for more trophies as a team.”

These aren’t the first honors for the dynamic duo this offseason. Opara was named the MLS Defender of the Year on Nov. 9 while Melia was named Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year on Nov. 16.

The duo played a leading role throughout the 2017 campaign as Sporting KC won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and advanced to the MLS Cup Playoffs for a seventh straight year.

Melia, 31, reached MLS career-highs in wins (12), shutouts (10), saves (91), starts (31) and minutes (2,759) in his third season at Sporting KC. Among goalkeepers with at least 15 regular-season appearances, he led MLS with a 0.78 goals against average, 78.4 save percentage and 69.2 percent passing accuracy while ranking second with 10 shutouts.

An eight-year MLS veteran, Melia saved three penalty kicks in 2017 – one shy of the single-season league record – and was nominated for MLS Save of the Year with a remarkable finger-tip save in a 1-0 win at the Portland Timbers on April 15. He posted an additional three shutouts in Open Cup competition, lifting the trophy for the second time in three years. He finished 2017 with a 16-7-12 record in all competitions, notching a 0.72 goals against average and 13 clean sheets.

Opara, 28, anchored a stingy defense that allowed 29 goals during the regular season, eight fewer than any other team. In his fifth season with Sporting KC and his eighth in MLS, Opara set career-highs with 30 starts and 2,700 minutes played while contributing to 11 shutouts. Among MLS defenders, he ranked second in recoveries (193) and seventh in interceptions (69).

Sporting KC boasted a 0.77 goals against average and a 12-6-12 record in the 30 regular-season matches Opara played. He also added three goals, including a stunning bicycle kick in a 2-1 victory at the LA Galaxy on June 24 that was nominated for AT&T MLS Goal of the Year. Additionally, Opara started all five matches in Sporting KC’s run to the Open Cup title, scoring two game-winning goals and contributing to three clean sheets. He ended the year with a career-high 36 appearances in all competitions after missing most of 2014 and 2015 with season-ending injuries.

Melia and Opara are the fourth and fifth players on the current Sporting KC roster to receive Best XI honors. Defenders Matt Besler and Graham Zusi were back-to-back selections in 2012 and 2013, while midfielder Benny Feilhaber was a 2015 Best XI selection.

Current MLS players, club technical staffs and media members voted on the 2017 Best XI, resulting in a 3-3-4 formation with one goalkeeper, three defenders, three midfielders and four forwards.