WASHINGTON – Roy Miller was the butt of plenty of jokes when it was revealed Saturday that he was back in the starting lineup for the New York Red Bulls, but his ensuing performance was no laughing matter.
The Costa Rican international was a key piece to the Red Bulls’ posting a 2-0 shutout over rivals D.C. United at RFK Stadium in his first start since his infamous meltdown vs. the San Jose Earthquakes on March 10. Miller surprisingly replaced a healthy Heath Pearce on the left side of the Red Bulls’ defense, and he helped negate Chris Pontius and Dwayne De Rosario en route to the Red Bulls picking up their second win of the season.
“Whatever goes on outside the locker room is for the fans and the media,” midfielder Dax McCarty. “We have complete faith in Roy. We know he made a mistake, he knows he made a mistake back in San Jose and he was punished for it and he learned from it. He’s been training fantastically and he’s the longest-tenured guy on this team for a reason.”
The way Miller has been training is indeed a big part of why he was selected over Pearce to start against United, but it was not the only reason. Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke pointed to a number of other things, including how Miller responded to the public uproar that followed after he admitted to encroaching on a penalty kick against the Earthquakes on purpose.
“It was a reward for Roy for handling the whole situation after his comments, especially in the paper, and the performances [he had],” Petke said. “He’s the first one to hold his hand up, he’s a professional and he’s worked hard over the last several weeks and he had a good performance in the reserve game in Chicago [last week].
“If I’m not going to reward my players for doing the right things and earning things then why have a reserve league, why have a bench? I think he’s earned this start and I think he’s done well.”
For Miller – who found out he was starting on Thursday – getting the nod was surely vindication. But he seemed more focused after the game on acknowledging all the support he had received during his recent hardships.
“I have to thank the coach for having confidence to put me back in the starting lineup and my teammates, who have always supported me,” Miller said. “I’ve always been a fighter. I fought today even with everything that has happened and we all leave happy today.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.