TUKWILA, Wash. – Tyler Miller’s name is now forever etched in the Seattle Sounders’ Lamar Hunt US Open Cup lore.
Starting in place of first-team regular Stefan Frei, the second-year goalkeeper put in a massive shift during Seattle’s Open Cup Round of 16 road match-up with Real Salt Lake on Tuesday, making eight saves across regulation and extra time before adding two more in the game-deciding penalty shootout. Miller's performance almost single-handedly saw Seattle through to the tournament’s quarterfinals.
For Ezra Hendrickson – who coached Miller during his time with Seattle’s USL side S2 – the standout effort from his former pupil was a welcome sight.
“He was brilliant,” Hendrickson told MLSsoccer.com following an S2 training session at Starfire Soccer Complex on Wednesday. “It’s something where you almost expect it from him. But to come up so big in a game like that when his team needed him to come up with saves, that was big-time.”
Miller’s path from college standout at Northwestern to Open Cup hero wasn’t always a smooth one.
After getting drafted by the Seattle in the second round of last year’s MLS SuperDraft, Miller decided to try his luck overseas, rather than joining the Sounders, signing with SVN Zweibrucken – a fourth-division club in Germany. The struggles of the club, combined with the less than glamorous life of fourth-division soccer, made the experience a trying one, and Miller eventually signed with Seattle last July.
“It’s difficult,” Miller said after his arrival in Seattle. “You get thrown into an environment where you don’t know the language. You have to learn quick or you’re not going to survive.”
Although his time overseas didn’t go as planned, Hendrickson said the experience has helped Miller during his time with S2 and the first-team Sounders.
“Sometimes, especially as a goalkeeper, going through that type of adversity helps you,” Hendrickson said. “It makes you better because at the end of the day, there’s no shot you haven’t seen. I think it was a good experience for him. It was difficult, but he’s getting rewarded now for going through it.”
Tuesday’s performance was also one of redemption for Miller.
In his only start in MLS play this season – also against Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto back on March 12 – Miller was outmuscled for a ball in the air by RSL’s Jamison Olave, allowing the game-winning goal in the 85th minute.
The fortitude he displayed to overcome that hiccup is an additional encouraging sign for the Sounders coaches, Hendrickson says.
“His performance last night showed us that whatever happened in that first game in Salt Lake didn’t really matter to him,” Hendrickson said. “He went out and proved to everyone what kind of ‘keeper he is. When called upon, he was there, even on the PKs at the end. You can tell he has the mentality to let those mistakes go.”
It’s doubtful that Tuesday’s heroics alone will lead to any sort of goalkeeper controversy in Seattle, with Frei in the midst of another strong season as the first-team starter. But with Miller’s emergence, the Sounders can take comfort in knowing their depth behind Frei is in good hands.