When Los Angeles Football Club announced they had signed Honduras international goalkeeper Luis Lopez, I think most people assumed he would be the starter for the MLS expansion club. Lopez was young, signed at 24, but with the other goalkeeper on the roster at that point being another youngster, Tyler Miller, it seemed pretty open and shut that Lopez would start, even if LAFC talked up Miller when they selected him in the Expansion Draft from the Seattle Sounders.
In the end, none of that really came to pass, as Lopez entered with an injury, one the team said would keep him out to start the campaign and that they knew about when they signed him, but an injury that kept him out far beyond the initial 4-6 week estimate.
To date, Miller has started all but one of LAFC’s games in all competitions, and for now, seems set to be the starter beyond just this season. He’s even on the 2018 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year candidate list.
Of course, basically every starting goalkeeper in MLS is on that shortlist, but does Miller, who also joined LAFC at 24 and had played a total of three MLS games for the Sounders prior to moving to LA, have a case to be in the Goalkeeper of the Year conversation?
Let’s look into the numbers:
Miller is fifth in MLS to date with 107 saves. The leader is Montreal Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush, who has 126.
Now, saves are often a place where decent goalkeepers on bad teams can shine. In fact, three of the top five GKs in this category at present play for teams not in the playoff places. And with LAFC’s go-for-broke attacking style that does not feature a traditional defensive midfielder, the defense is under siege a lot and so Miller stays busy. So what I’m saying is, having over 100 saves is good, but some of that does come from the style Miller’s team plays, which gives up a lot of shot opportunities to opponents.
Generally, save percentage is regarded as a better indicator of prowess than saves alone for goalkeepers. Miller has saved 67.7 percent of the shots he’s faced, which sounds decent. But the leader in this category (to have played at least 20 games) is Portland Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, at 76.3 percent, followed by Miller’s former Sounders teammate Stefan Frei, who has a save percentage of 75.7. Frei has played nine more games than Attinella, who’s been hurt some of the season.
In fact, among goalkeepers who have played at least 20 league games this year, eight players have a save percentage higher than Miller. So in this regard, he’s firmly in the middle of the pack.
So let’s next take a look at an advanced stat, expected goals allowed, as compiled by American Soccer Analysis. While advanced stats are a work in progress overall, and ASA’s model may be different than other folks who compile a similar stat, it can give us an idea of Miller’s performance, and how it compares to other goalkeepers.
According to the ASA rankings, as of this writing Miller is 12th overall in MLS (although two players ahead of him have small sample sizes), with an xGA of -1.76. This means he’s allowed fewer goals than expected goals would predict, meaning he is outperforming to an extent. The leader in this category is Frei, whose xGA is far and away the best, at -11.67. Frei let in a very soft goal to Laurent Ciman at the first game in The Banc, and he’s still doing incredibly well by the expected goals model!
Can Miller stop penalties? Yes, he’s stopped two this year, joint-top in the league alongside five other players.
Miller is tied for second in the league with 10. He did plenty of work to earn these, but this is another category that is shared between him and his teammates. In some occasions, the rest of the team can help, and in others, they don’t.
It is worth pausing to note this fact, as LAFC have a reputation of having a leaky defense, they are still Top 6 in the league in posting shutouts. 10 games is a tick over 30 percent of their league matches to date, so that’s really not too bad.
How can we contextualize Miller’s season? It’s his first as a starter in MLS, in his third season as a pro. Remembering that LAFC either expected Lopez to be the starter, or at most, figured they would have Lopez and Miller square off in preseason to determine which player would emerge the starter, Miller has almost certainly outperformed expectations, both inside the club and around the league overall.
Were there points in the season where Miller seemed to cost LAFC points? Yes. Most notably, his first goal conceded in Portland in the first league meeting against the Timbers. There have been a few rebounds coughed up off of saves that have led to quick put-backs by opponents, and there was chatter at one point that had some fans calling for Miller to be replaced.
But has Miller been better than that on average? No question. If there have been perhaps 2-3 games in which a mistake by Miller directly led to dropped points, there have been far more games in which his play kept LAFC in a match or led to a positive result. Anecdotally, he’s been on the MLS Team of the Week XI three times, and the Team of the Week bench three other times. That’s pretty good in 31 appearances.
So, does Miller deserve to be in consideration for MLS Goalkeeper of the Year? He does, but that sports radio trope of “he’s in the conversation” is probably the extent of it. The numbers really point to Frei this year.
That said, Miller has had a strong season, and if he can stay healthy moving forward and continue to hone his game, he seems to be on track to improve as he secures the starter mantle beyond this season. Is he a candidate to be a serious Goalkeeper of the Year contender in the future? He’ll have to play the games, of course, but don’t be surprised if he is in the reckoning in the future.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!