LOS ANGELES – Goalkeepers have it rough. Villains if their concentration lapses for an instant. Heroes after only the most unbelievable circumstances.
Even a great save is sometimes not enough.
“It can easily overwhelm you,” LAFC netminder Tyler Miller said. “You stop a PK, but then they score anyway. That’s happened to me twice this year already. It’s just part of the position.”
Miller stonewalled Real Salt Lake’s Joao Plata in March and NYCFC’s David Villa last Sunday, only for the ball to bounce forgivingly back to the attackers for a redux. In fact, the goal that earned the Cityzens a draw on their visit to Banc of California Stadium also came following a rebound from another Miller stop.
“I play better when I’m just enjoying life,” said Miller when asked about how he deals with the demands of defending the LAFC net. “Being able to just go out there and say, ‘Hey don’t worry if you make a mistake, just go have fun and just keep going.’”
Though it’s disguised as nonchalance, his attitude is essentially a coping mechanism to the lighting rod experience of being a professional goalkeeper. Miller credits a friend from his college years at Northwestern with stressing a simple, but Zen-like philosophical approach.
“Control what you can control,” Miller said, echoing his college buddy’s words that LAFC goalkeeping coach Zak Abdel has also emphasized. “All I can control is my mentality and how prepared I am for the game. Just go out there, play relaxed, have fun and enjoy the moment. That’s just been my mentality for this beginning of the year. It’s really paid off.”
Indeed, it has.
Miller has earned four clean sheets in LAFC’s 6-2-2 start to the season, starting all 10 contests. Prior to arriving as the club’s first pick in the 2017 Expansion Draft, Miller had only played three times in two-and-a-half years in Seattle.
“I was so hungry for that one opportunity to play,” Miller said of the moment he came to Los Angeles from the Sounders. “I knew that it was time.”
Though the student got the better of the teacher in the two meetings between the Sounders and LAFC this season, Miller was eager to acknowledge the invaluable assistance he received from MLS veteran Stefan Frei.
“We built up a really good relationship where he really took on that role of being my mentor and helped me through things a lot,” he said. “Stef and the whole organization up there really helped me grow and mature as a player.”
When LAFC visit Providence Park this Saturday to take on the Portland Timbers (3 pm ET | FOX — Full TV & streaming info), where Frei and the Sounders lost last weekend, Miller will, in one sense, get a chance to pay Seattle back for their help.
“Portland obviously has a very hostile stadium, environment, supporters, in a good way,” said Miller, who admits the reserve matches he’s played in Providence Park pale in comparison to the atmosphere during a first-team contest. “I’ve been through the rivalry with Seattle and Portland, so I know what that’s all about. I know what to expect going into this weekend.”
While the goalkeeper admitted that, as an ex-Sounder, a win in Portland would be “awesome,” he also insisted the match is also a chance to kick off yet another rivalry for LAFC.
“For everybody in the Western Conference, they’re playing us for the first time,” he said. “It’s a new opportunity for them to show they’re not going to let the new kids on the block come in and beat them at home, [but] we’re confident and we’re excited for each new challenge.”