It had been weeks and Charleston Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser had been through almost a dozen goalkeepers already.
But when you're trying to replace a franchise keeper like Dusty Hudock, you could search for years and not find the right guy.
Hudock, who had 281 appearances with Charleston, had been the face of the Battery franchise for nearly a decade, and his retirement after the 2009 season left a huge void in the Battery's lineup. By the middle of March, Anhaeuser had changed goalies nearly as often as he had changed his socks.
"I knew it wasn't going to be an easy process, but I didn't think it would take as long as it did," Anhaeuser said. "I knew it would probably take a while to get a goalie I was comfortable with. We must have had 12 or 13 goalies in during the preseason, but I never felt comfortable with any of them, and that's so important at that position."
Anhaeuser thought he had his man in early March when former College of Charleston and Clemson star Hunter Gilstrap came to the Battery's preseason camp.
"We really liked Hunter, but he already had an offer from Pittsburgh and I wasn't ready to pull the trigger," Anheauser said.
Enter Tim Melia.
Melia had languished in Rochester, playing in just 14 games with the Raging Rhinos during his first two seasons at the professional level. He signed with Major League Soccer's Real Salt Lake during the offseason, but knew his prospects for cracking that lineup were slim.
"I knew I needed to get some games under my belt," Melia said. "Obviously, I was hoping to earn a spot with Salt Lake, but I was realistic about the situation. There's an established goalie with every MLS team, so I knew I needed to get loaned out and get as much game experience as I could."
When Real Salt Lake came to the Lowcountry to play in the Carolina Cup Challenge back in March, there was a glut of keepers on their roster. Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis and Anhaeuser agreed to give Melia a look. He got into the second half of the final game against D.C. United and made one save.
"I knew Tim from Rochester, so I knew what he was capable of," Anhaeuser said. "D.C. was up 2-0, so they didn't really push forward, but I thought Tim played well. I knew he could play in this league. I let Jason know that we were interested in him should he become available."
A week before the start of the MLS season, Salt Lake loaned Melia to the Battery.
"Honestly, I think getting loaned here is the best thing for me," Melia said. "There's only so much you can do during training. You can train with the best guys in the world, but if you're not getting any game experience, it's not going to do you a whole lot of good. I'd been here for the tournament and with Rochester, so I knew they had first-class facilities and they were a great club. Things couldn't have worked out any better for me."
With veteran keeper Keith Wiggans still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, Melia has played in every game thus far this season. The former Lynn University star is 3-0-1 with two shutouts and a goals against average of 0.50.
"Tim has really helped solidify us in the back," Anhaeuser said. "He has made some big saves, especially during some of our road games. He's very athletic. He has a tremendous leg. The only thing he lacks right now is experience. The more game experience he gets, the better he's going to get."
There's no guarantee that Melia will remain with the Battery all summer. He could be recalled to Salt Lake at any moment. For now, Melia is just happy to be in the lineup on a regular basis.
"I love being on the field, so I want to play as much as I can," Melia said. "It doesn't matter what level I'm playing at, I just want to play."
Kreis believes that Melia has MLS potential.
"Tim has a very bright future ahead of him," Kreis said back in March. "He has the skill set to play at a very high level. He just needs to get out on the field and play on a regular basis."
Harrisburg City Islanders (0-1-1, 1 point) vs. Charleston Battery ((3-0-1, 10 points)
When: Tonight, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Blackbaud Stadium
Tickets: 971-GOAL, www.charlestonbattery.com
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