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LAFC 2018 Player Postmortem: Tyler Miller

Young backup emerged as expansion team’s No. 1.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Los Angeles FC Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Miller was a surprise No. 1 pick by Los Angeles Football Club in their expansion draft in Dec. 2017. With all of the eligible players in MLS to choose from, LAFC opted for a backup goalkeeper who had only played two MLS regular-season games in two seasons, plus one playoff game when starter Stefan Frei had been hurt? That’s a very small sample size.

But goalkeeper is a tricky position to evaluate, as normally the starter gets a full run, and of course, only one can be on the field in a game at a time. Plus, we’ve seen with someone like Tim Melia, who seemed destined to be a backup blossom into a lock-down star when finally given a chance, that backup GKs aren’t necessarily inferior as a class across the board to starters. And while Frei has his moments, he’s one of the best in the league and so maybe Miller was a starter, waiting in the wings for his chance.

He got that at LAFC. Even with the expansion draft pickup and LAFC GM John Thorrington talking up Miller in the press after the selection, once the club signed Honduras international Luis Lopez, another young goalkeeper, it seemed set that Miller would slot in as the backup. But Lopez was injured for the start of the season, and ended up being sidelined over five months. Into the breach stepped Miller, and aside from one 90-minute stint from Lopez in the late-summer, Miller was the undisputed No. 1 and started every minute.

Miller LAFC 2018 statistics

2018 Games Played Games Started Minutes Saves Goals Allowed GAA Shutouts Win % Save % Yellow Cards Red Cards
2018 Games Played Games Started Minutes Saves Goals Allowed GAA Shutouts Win % Save % Yellow Cards Red Cards
MLS Regular Season 33 33 2,970 114 50 1.52 10 48 69.5 3 0
U.S. Open Cup 4 4 390 16 7 1.75 1 75 69.5 0 0
MLS Playoffs 1 1 90 0 3 3 0 0 0 0 0
Total 38 38 3,450 130 60 1.58 11 50 68 3 0

Miller was 24 when the season started, and he showed in his first season of heavy minutes at MLS level the ups and downs that go with being an untested ‘keeper. He put in a Herculean effort to earn a 1-0 win against his old team in LAFC’s first match, in Seattle, and had about a half-dozen other games where he basically stood on his head to deliver a result for LAFC.

There were down moments, too. Miller really got dinged on a goal he gave up against NYCFC, when he pushed a rebound seemingly right back at an opposing player, who duly scored, and he did the same against the Portland Timbers in Portland, in a game where LAFC struggled collectively but could have rescued a result if they had committed one less mistake.

But then there was that Zlatan Ibrahimovic goal. The 40-yard half-volley in the first El Trafico was the highlight played around the world, with Miller looking like a rag doll, hopelessly out of position as LAFC’s collapse mounted.

But here’s the thing: It may have looked bad for Miller to be standing on the edge of the 6-yard box, but Ibrahimovic is the only player in MLS who would have even tried that shot, let alone made it. Zlatan once did a 25-yard bicycle kick for a goal — he has a unique ability to stretch boundaries of what is possible. In hindsight, can you blame Miller for not being in position? Maybe, but to me it is harsh, and any GK in MLS would likely have been caught out, too. If Miller had been on his line, you can be assured that Zlatan would have looked for a different absurd way to score, and could very well have done it.

Another point to consider is just how hard Miller’s job was. LAFC’s approach was front-foot, they were to be an attacking team first and foremost. No dedicated defensive midfielder meant immense pressure was put on the defense, and the primary center backs for most of the year, Walker Zimmerman and Laurent Ciman, had a penchant for playing aggressively. Sometimes that approach worked wonders and other times, they got played, hard. In those cases, the last line of defense was Miller. And again, he had multiple games where he was doing his damnedest to get a result, and got it done. To say that Miller single-handedly defended at times is not correct, but Miller was certainly not put in a cocoon by Bob Bradley, with multiple d-mids and a very cautious backline in front of him to shield him. The aggressive style really was exciting, but Miller was put in a sink or swim scenario, and largely held his own.

I think a segment of fans want LAFC to upgrade at goalkeeper position, and frankly, no player’s role should necessarily be assured. But I think for it being his first season as a starter in MLS, with a system that did not shield him, Miller was quite good. By no means perfect, but I think he’s definitely earned time to show the improvements in his game, because I expect him to get better.

And being called up to the U.S. Men’s National Team will be a good learning opportunity for Miller. It was, admittedly a bit of a surprise that he got the nod from new USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter for the January training camp, but it’s a good opportunity for him. Zack Steffen appears to be the incumbent-elect at goalkeeper for the U.S. in the years to come, but you never know what can happen, and if Miller takes a true leap, who knows? I don’t think we should be penciling him into the 2019 Gold Cup squad just yet, but if he impresses, perhaps his career will really take off and LAFC’s selection of him will look very shrewd indeed.

All in all, I was heartened by Tyler Miller’s first season with LAFC, and I think there is plenty of room for improvement, too. And I think he very well will show that improvement in the months and years to come.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!