ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Back in Tyler Miller’s youth soccer days in Gloucester County, he was rather overlooked.
But when the Woodbury-born goalkeeper got to Bishop Eustace High in the fall of 2007, he started to get attention. Miller earned Inquirer All-South Jersey first team honors as a junior and senior in 2009 and 2010, and was recruited to Northwestern.
These days, the rewards have been much bigger. Standing an imposing 6-foot-4, the 26-year-old backstops Major League Soccer’s best team, Los Angeles FC. And he has earned an invitation to be one of the reserves on the U.S. men’s national team’s Gold Cup squad.
“It’s an exciting time," Miller told the Inquirer in an interview at the national team’s training camp on Tuesday. “When I was growing up, I was playing on a small, farm town club team called Pittsgrove. While everybody else was doing academies, taking that route, I just decided to take a different opportunity. … I never really had that recognition when I was younger.”
The Seattle Sounders drafted Miller in 2015 in the second round, but he decided to go abroad and signed with a lower-tier German club. That didn’t pan out, so he headed to Seattle after a few months.
Miller made just a handful of apperances in MLS for the Sounders, spending most of his time with their second-tier USL team. But as LAFC prepared to debut in MLS last year, he made a big impression with a shutout of the Dynamo in Houston in the 2017 playoffs.
Los Angeles picked him in the expansion draft, ended up making him their starter, and he led the team to third place in the Western Conference last year.
This year, the team is MLS' best by a wide margin. LAFC's 37 points in the standings blow away the field, with the crosstown Galaxy and the Union tied for second at 28. Their goal differential of +26 is more than all but two teams leaguewide have scored, the other being the Union.
(Which shows how good the Union are, but that's another story.)
Miller ranks No. 2 in MLS this year in goals allowed per 90 minutes, and only the top two — Atlanta’s Brad Guzan is the other — have an average below 1.00.
And of course, there are plenty of benefits to playing in Los Angeles — including the boisterous crowds that flock to Banc of California Stadium, just off downtown and next to the famed Coliseum, for every game.
"We're flying," Miller said. "The chemistry within the team has really grown a lot since last year. … I really enjoy living in L.A. a lot, and the people are really great. But the most important thing is our stadium, our supporters are amazing. Every time we show up it's a full house."
Unlike many of the top Americans in MLS, Miller barely had any time in the U.S. youth national team system. His only such experience came in 2015, when he was on an under-23 team that played two friendlies in Europe a few months before the 2016 Olympics qualifying tournament.
But Miller played so well for LAFC that new U.S. senior team coach Gregg Berhalter decided to invite him in.
“We saw him in January camp and his performance wasn’t good enough to continue on with the team in those two friendlies,” Berhalter said Tuesday. “Since then, he’s raised the level of his game, and it’s realy nice to see guys start at one point and be able to increase their performance, and he’s certainly done that. He’s been good with his feet, he’s been good on crosses, good in controlling his penalty box, and I think he’s had an excellent year so far.”
It would be a stretch to say they have similar roots — try driving between their home towns in rush hour and see how long it takes — but Miller said they have a bit of a bond.
“You have that sense of where you’re from, where you grew up, and we know what everyone from Philly is like, their personalities,” he said. “I think we really click, and we mesh pretty well.”
Although Miller traveled to Talen Energy Stadium with the Sounders once, he has yet to play a game there, with family and friends looking on. That will likely change on Sept. 14 when LAFC visits the Union.
"I'm really looking forward to that game," he said.