Tyler Miller has racked up a 12-1-4 record with Los Angeles Football Club in 2019. He’s allowed just 14 goals, picking up six shutouts along the way. Needless to say, basically every team in MLS would love to have a goalkeeper with a record like that.
But with Miller going away on international duty, serving as the third-string goalkeeper for the U.S. Men’s National Team for the duration of the Concacaf Gold Cup, Pablo Sisniega stepped in and handled business, putting together a 4-2-0 record in the month-plus he was the No. 1 for LAFC.
Miller had a flair for the dramatic in 2018, sometimes mixing up highlight-reel saves with blunders, honestly. This season, he’s settled in and is far more steady — fewer games where he has to save his side, but no major blunders to speak of (although he did escape a likely red card in Dallas, but he did escape it).
But with Sisniega coming in and not only looking like he too could be a starter, but posting dramatic performances with a team that was frequently rotated in front of him, there have been calls for the Mexican to take over as the first-choice goalkeeper by some black-and-gold fans.
Adding to the evidence was Miller’s return in net, which turned out to be a 3-1 win on Friday against the Houston Dynamo, with the squad playing a truly crazy second game in three days. What was alarming was how rusty Miller looked, conceding in the first two minutes and needing plenty of last-ditch defending, including an incredible block by Mohamed El-Munir on an open goal, to hang on for the comeback.
So, should we take the calls for Sisniega to take the No. 1 permanently seriously? In a word, no.
These situations should be handled case-by-case. LAFC radio announcer Dave Denholm made a great point earlier this season on his weekly ESPNLA show “Soccer Weekly” that while Lee Nguyen was unfortunate to have suffered an injury that gave Latif Blessing a chance to play midfield, it would be silly to bench Blessing, who’s been a revelation, just because Nguyen is healthy. I think you could make an argument either way, but I agree with Denholm, Blessing has been so good that it really doesn’t make sense to bench him, even if it’s a tough break for Nguyen.
In the goalkeeping case, however, I think the situation is different. Sisniega has been extremely good, he’s never looked like the moment is too big for him, and remember, he’s played MLS opposition throughout his six-game stretch (no lower-division opponents for LAFC this year in the U.S. Open Cup). It’s unusual, frankly, for an untested backup to come in and play as assured as he has, no doubt.
But consider Miller’s story here. He sits out for six weeks, which is unfortunate from his perspective because he loses game rhythm, leading to a shaky performance Friday in Houston. I expect he’ll be back up to speed in no time, however, and he has the experience LAFC need to mount a title challenge. Sisniega has been good, but Miller has the reps, and he’s also been really good. Plus, he’s not coming back from an injury, instead he’s coming back from international duty, which in some regards anoints him as a top American goalkeeper. I’m not saying the best goalkeepers around are always internationals, but Miller is still young, he has the chance of breaking through further with the USMNT in the future, and he’s been fantastic for LAFC throughout his time here, especially this season.
It is, as the cliché goes, a good problem for Bob Bradley and the club to have, two players who look like good MLS starters. Based on what he’s done so far, Miller looks like a player who will continue to improve, but sometimes that linear improvement doesn’t happen, and an insurance policy like Sisniega will come in handy. The two players can push each other to get better, and ultimately the ‘keeper who doesn’t keep a starting spot can be a useful trade or transfer asset for the club if they play it right. Sisniega did as well as we could have expected in Miller’s place, but Miller is the right choice to get back into net for the time being.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!