After a breakout first season with LAFC in 2018 for Tyler Miller, where he went from little-known Seattle Sounders backup to the cusp of the US national team, year two picked up right where the first ended.
LAFC were imperious, starting to pull away with the Supporters' Shield early in the season as they staked their claim for best regular season in league history. Miller played every available minute, anchoring league's stingiest defense by way of goals conceded. That form earned him a spot on the USMNT's Gold Cup roster as a backup goalkeeper.
What looked to be a career apex quickly gave took a downward turn.
After sitting for all six of his country's matches in the tournament, Miller returned to LAFC and struggled mentally. All of a sudden, confidence and happiness were gone, replaced by doubt and an ambivalent malaise. He worked to break out of a funk he didn't know he was mired in, to no effect.
“I got to the point where I enjoyed going to the coffee shop after training more than I did actually going to training," Miller told MLSsoccer.com.
Miller missed only three LAFC games as the USMNT lost in the Gold Cup final to Mexico. He immediately returned to the starting XI for a few games but uncharacteristically sat out three more games intermittently over the rest of the season.
"When I came back from the national team, I really struggled with confidence," Miller said. "Going into every game I believed in myself, but there were little things I was almost too worried about. I wasn’t enjoying the day-to-day grind of going to training. I felt in a dark place that I couldn’t break out of.
“I wasn’t going through the motions," he continued. "I was doing my best to break out of this funk. But it felt like every weekend if I made one mistake, I’d be in my head. ‘Oh, am I going to play the next game? Am I going to be able to recover from this? I couldn’t consistently put together the things I needed to do."
Miller went into the offseason under a cloud of uncertainty. His contract with LAFC expired at season's end and the speculation grew that his future would not be in Los Angeles.
He had a great, hard talk with a former goalkeeper coach who helped move forward. He also read a popular self-help book called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, helping further put things in perspective. By mid-January, he had a new home with Minnesota United.
“When I came to Minnesota, I found this refreshing new start," Miller said. "I was able to approach the game in a much simpler fashion.”
Minnesota won both of their first two matches before MLS suspended play due to the COVID-19 pandemic, picking up right where they left off in their club-record 2019.
"I felt so good going into every game," Miller said. "Granted we gave up three goals so far — two were PKs and one was deflected — but I felt like I couldn’t be scored on right now. I felt really good going into every game, not because I’m uber-confident, but because I was so relaxed.”
Miller has been relaxed with all the downtime at home in isolation, too.
He's picking up new hobbies, like learning how to play the guitar. It's his first musical endeavor since he stopped playing the trumpet in fourth grade. He's letting his hair grow, too, but that was a pre-isolation decision. He hasn't cut it since LAFC's playoff loss to Seattle in November.
Miller even channeled his downtime into writing, directing, editing and starring in a 45-second Rambo remake for his Twitter followers.
“I’ve been roasted a little bit by teammates but honestly I got more praise," Miller said with a laugh. "A lot of people thought I lost my mind, but little did they know, that’s actually what’s going on in my mind a lot of times.”
“Wan Kuzain? I don’t know much about him," Miller said. "I’ve heard he’s a really good FIFA player but I’m really hoping to take advantage of the mental side of this game and see how mentally strong he is. I’ve been through the s--t, I know how strong I am. We’ll see what he’s been through as a young boy.”