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The rise of LAFC’s Tyler Miller in 2019

Evaluating the goalkeeper through the first half of the season.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Los Angeles FC Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In 2018, Tyler Miller played his first full season as a starting goalkeeper in MLS, and it was solid. He played 38 games (all but one of LAFC’s competitive matches across all competitions), with a 1.58 goals against average, making 130 saves.

Miller, the first pick in LAFC’s expansion draft, beat out an injured Luis Lopez to be the No. 1, and his good first season ended up with Lopez being shipped back out to Honduras.

In season two, Miller has built upon the first campaign, getting now semi-regular call-ups to the U.S. Men’s National Team, something that appears to remain a surprise around American soccer but a testament to his progress as a player. This time around, after some rumors claimed LAFC would bring in competition for the starting GK spot in the offseason, the club ended up signing two promising youngsters, but players intended to be clear backups.

As a result, Miller has played in all 16 competitive games for LAFC so far this season, as they have raced out to a six-point lead in the Supporters’ Shield standings, with just one loss. They’ve scored more goals than the rest of the league, but the biggest change this season is the defense has tightened up, as they’ve conceded just 13 goals, compared to 25 at the same stage last year.

Honestly, much of the time Miller hasn’t been called on like he was last year. With the midfield and defense defending better in front of him, and the team not routinely falling apart late in 2019, there have been fewer games when Miller has been left to throw his body around in desperation, which has helped his numbers and the performances for all.

But all that in mind, Miller has been more assured this season for LAFC. Most important, he’s not making the big gaffes that handed points to the opponent like he did occasionally last year. His biggest mistake to date was corralling an FC Dallas played and impeding him, but he got away with it, as he was not red-carded for an obvious worthy foul. Aside from that, he’s cleaned up his rebounds off saves, and while he’s had fewer games where he needs to make seven or eight saves to preserve a result, he’s been in the right place at the right time, making the stops he needs to make, and along with the rest of the roster, he’s elevated his game to make LAFC the best team in the league at the halfway point.

Circling back to the surprise that Miller has jumped up so much that he’s earning USMNT call-ups these days, U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Gregg Berhalter spoke of why Miller got the call for the Gold Cup this summer in training this week.

“So Tyler is one of those guys who I think has made huge improvements,” Berhalter said. “A lot of credit goes to LAFC and Bob Bradley for what they do with him. We saw him in January camp, and his performance wasn’t good enough to continue on with the team in those two friendlies, but since then he’s raised the level of his game. It’s really nice to see guys start at one point, and then increase their performance. He’s been able to do that. Good with his feet, he’s been good on crosses, good at controlling his penalty box, and I think he’s had an excellent year so far.”

Ironically, with Miller away for the Gold Cup, LAFC will have to turn to a new goalkeeper for at least the next two games, possibly as many as five, with Pablo Sisniega likely to be the fill-in. Will he be able to take to MLS as quickly as Miller? It may not make or break LAFC’s season, but we know that with Miller between the posts, the best team in MLS at the moment don’t have to worry about him at all.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!

Jason Anderson contributed reporting to this story.