As he demonstrated on Minnesota United’s third and final goal in its season-opening victory at Portland, goalkeeper Tyler Miller’s big leg can cause the opposition headaches, in more ways than one.
Miller’s ability to boot the ball 70 yards or more downfield provides his team a new weapon. On Sunday, Miller’s booming punt bounced just once before teammate Luis Amarilla played it forward for Kevin Molino’s insurance goal in the 78th minute of a 3-1 victory.
The height and length of such kicks repeatedly also might make opposing defenders far down the field think twice about heading a ball with such weight and velocity.
Watching Miller train in preseason, veteran midfielder Ethan Finlay thought his own eyes deceived him as the keeper kicked balls from one 18-yard penalty area to the other.
“At first I thought it was just the wind,” Finlay said. “But no, he’s consistent and he kicks a big ball. You don’t see many guys punting the ball like he does.”
Miller, 26, has done so since he was young. He now stands 6-4 and has a long leg arc. But he never unleashed that leg as a weapon during his first four years in MLS. He was a backup at Seattle his first two seasons. His last two seasons as a starter with LAFC, the team attacked with connecting passes from its defensive backline and keeper.
“I always have done that growing up, but when I went to L.A., we played a different style,” Miller said. “We played out of the back and I didn’t get to utilize it as much. I was surprised myself honestly how far it was going. It must have been those new balls.”
This year for the league’s 25th anniversary, MLS and Adidas introduced a new ball inspired by the blue, white and green one used that first season in 1996.
Miller is a prototypical modern-day goalkeeper who can play the ball from the back with his feet, but also has a long-strike capability that’s part of today’s game as well. Brazilian goalkeeper Ederson has changed that modern game at Manchester City in England’s Premier League with his long, accurate left-footed kicks far beyond midfield.
“The amount of times Ederson has kicked it 70 yards downfield and from nowhere now they’re in on goal,” Loons coach Adrian Heath said. “It’s something we’ve spoken about.”
Last Saturday, Cristian Pavon scored L.A. Galaxy’s only goal in a draw with Houston on a long strike from the penalty box’s edge, courtesy of keeper David Bingham’s one-strike pass to Pavon on the run beyond midfield.
Such punts and kicks are both a dangerous counterattack as well as a moment of intimidation and hesitation.
“If I punt the ball that high for 90 minutes, by the end of the game center backs aren’t going to want to be heading it,” said Miller, who was acquired in a January trade after 2019 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Vito Mannone turned down two lucrative offers. “It’s an opportunity I think we can take advantage of, but obviously I don’t want to make that our only weapon. There a lot of other dangerous ways we can break down teams. But it can be one of them.”
Such a weapon allows a team’s defensive backline to push forward and play higher up the field. That shortens the field and often proves an advantage. Finlay calls Miller’s range with that leg “bigger than what we had last year, or that I’ve ever had.”
Finlay calls it a “big weapon, for sure.”
“One pass and you go 90 yards down the field,” he said. “That’s a big deal. You’re not going to be able to do it against everybody obviously. Some teams might drop more guys. But against a team really try to press us when we play out of the back, it’s a great way to play.”