LAFC No. 1 Tyler Miller has a lot to look forward to in 2019. And he’ll have a stellar 2018 to thank.
Selected with Club's first pick in the 2017 Expansion Draft, Miller came to LAFC full of potential, eager to seize the top goalkeeper spot, but relatively unknown to most fans. In his first two seasons in MLS, the goalkeeper managed just two starts, having to bid his time behind 2016 MLS Cup MVP Stefan Frei in Seattle. But shown an open path to the No. 1 spot with LAFC, Miller began his first season as the starter in emphatic fashion.
Miller had a Man of the Match level performance in the expansion side's first match, handing his former Sounders team a 1-0 defeat. In that match, Miller made seven stops to secure the first three points in LAFC history. From there, the goalkeeper went on to start 22 matches in a row for the Black & Gold. He finished the 2018 season with career-highs in starts (33), wins (16), and saves (114). And finished tied for third in MLS with 10 shutouts - also a career-high for Miller.
To cap his breakout season, Miller was one of 27 players called up by new U.S. Men's National Team head coach Gregg Berhalter for the January Camp starting Sunday in Chula Vista - teammates Christian Ramirez and Walker Zimmerman were also called into camp. It's the first senior call-up for Miller's career, having represented the national team at various youth levels in the past, and a few days before joining the USMNT, Miller took the time to speak about the opportunity and what it means to him after his first season with LAFC.
How Did You Receive The Call To the USMNT Camp?
I was traveling for the holidays, I had headed down to Houston. And I landed there and was waiting for my sister-in-law to pick me up. I got the email from the USMNT coordinator and it was something I wasn’t sure it was going to happen or not. But once I saw it, it was definitely an amazing feeling because it’s my first time being called up to the national team. It’s been a dream of mine since I was five, ever since I started playing soccer. It was a rush of emotions and really made me nostalgic for everything I’ve been through.
Who Did You Tell First?
Actually, I ended up telling my sister-in-law. She was super stoked for me just because she happened to be picking me up from the airport. But then I sent out a mass text to the rest of my family. Their support has been overwhelming for my career. They all know how much this means to me. They were just really happy and excited for me.
Was It a Surprise To Be Called In? Did You Have To Cut Your Vacation Short?
I went on vacation, but I made sure I was working out and staying sharp. I did need that mental break because the MLS season is so long, but I was definitely making sure that I was fit. I knew I had a strong year and there were opportunities, potentially, to get called into previous camps. But with a new coach coming in, you never know what kind of players they are going to prefer.
Obviously, with Gregg [Berhalter] I had no idea what goalies he’d be bringing in to this camp. Typically, they bring in a lot of MLS guys, and I was just hoping that maybe I would get an opportunity since I had a strong year. I was just grateful that Gregg thinks of me and is willing to give me a chance to go in and impress.
Have You Had Any Contact With Gregg Berhalter About What He's Looking For From His Goalkeepers?
I haven’t had any contact with him, but I’ve known people that have played for him or worked with him. So, I have an idea of what he is looking for. Playing against Columbus and how Zack Steffen plays, I have an idea of what kind of style he prefers his goalies to play and I think I fit into that style very well.
You Worked A Lot On Your Ability To Be A Possession-Oriented Goalkeeper This Year, How Do You Think That Will Benefit You Heading Into USMNT Camp?
Anytime that I’m working with Zak [Abdel] throughout the season, we train on it two to three times a week. Solely on making the right decision or making the right pass and getting it on to the right foot. And so, we really honed in on that skill. That was something I always felt that I was good at and was able to separate myself from other goalies. But this year with Zak especially, we really focused on that and making sure it was a key part of my game. Because in the long run of the game, it really helps your team if you are able to keep possession, including the goalkeeper.
Going into this camp, I’ve watched Zack Steffen play a lot and I know how the passes that he’s making are pretty similar to the ones that I make on the field as well. So I’ll be able to mesh pretty well with Gregg’s style of play because it’s pretty similar to what Bob wants as well.
What Has Your Relationship With The USMNT Been Like Throughout The Years?
Obviously, I started watching them when I was younger. One of the first professional games I went to was a Manchester United versus Barcelona friendly and Tim Howard was in goal. I got to see him play and then I tracked his career while he was playing on the national team, too. He’s been the goalie that I’ve looked up to the most on the national team and in that realm.
While I was growing up, I would always watch the World Cups or any national team game that was around. I went up to watch them play against Brazil in the Meadowlands. I’ve always been a fan. I was at the game against Costa Rica where it was snowing and a blizzard, the qualifying game in Colorado. I was there with my brother. It was a crazy experience. We went in and bought track jackets because it was so cold and we just needed to add a layer of clothing that game.
What Does This Mean For You At This Point In Your Career?
This basically is the goal. I had been on the U18 and then the U20 team briefly, and I finally made my national team debut with the U23 team. We were close to going to the Olympics but lost to Colombia. But to cap it off with getting invited to the full national team, which ultimately was my goal. Each youth national team was just a step to getting to where I am now, which is getting an opportunity with the full national team. At the end of the day, every player’s goal and dream is to go to the World Cup in four years. I know that it’s going to be a long and difficult process, but this is just the beginning of getting in there, making a good first impression, and really starting off the four-year cycle on a good note.
Finally, What Are Your Personal Goals Heading Into The January Camp?
Going into this camp, it’s an all MLS camp. There will be a lot of familiar faces that I know there, a lot of old teammates and friends that it will be good to play with again. But we’re there to compete and impress the coaching staff. That’s my No. 1 goal is going in there and trying to impress. But I’m also trying to enjoy the experience. This is my first experience, and who knows if it’s my last. I’m going to make sure that I am in the moment and I am having fun, just enjoying the process. Because with this game, like so many other things, you never know what could happen.
Right now, I’m just going in there and I’m going to enjoy it. And being able to play with Christian and Walker is just an added bonus for me because I love to see those guys do well. And I know that we’re going to represent LAFC to the best of our abilities.