There’s no getting around it: sooner or later, every new Minnesota United player will have to contend with a bit of winter weather. Although the bulk of their season happens in the state’s best — or maybe second best — season, the team’s training camp and preseason begin deep in the heart of January.
“I got into town [last] Friday night, landed in a snowstorm, which is a great welcome,” said goalkeeper Tyler Miller, newly arrived from LAFC and the climate that comes along with it. Fortunately, there were some familiar faces to greet him. “I reconnected with Michael Boxall and Ozzie Alonso. I played with Michael's brother in college and then Ozzie I played with for two years in Seattle. Last night I went over to Robin's [Lod] to watch some football so I've been making some new friends.”
While Blaine might be a ways from Los Angeles, the native of Woodbury, New Jersey, is no stranger to colder climates, having spent four years on the wind-bitten shores of Lake Michigan in Evanston, Illinois, for college.
“I really enjoy the Midwest,” he said. “I went to school at Northwestern so cold temperatures, snow, the wind, all that stuff isn't anything I'm not familiar with. I was actually pretty excited to get here and enjoy Midwest living again.”
Newcomers and returning players will take some time to get acclimated, but Miller has the additional task of filling some big shoes. Last year, Vito Mannone was a key component of the team’s defensive turnaround both on and off the pitch, earning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year honors and racking up highlight-worthy performances along the way.
Once Mannone turned down Minnesota’s second, higher offer to make him the highest paid goalkeeper in MLS, the team had to move on and Miller makes sense in myriad ways. At 26, he’s just beginning to get into his prime and Goalkeeping Coach Stewart Kerr believes there’s still room to grow for a player who’s already worked with the U.S. Men’s National Team and minded the net for last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners. Miller also saves the team a valuable international spot.
Miller himself has admired the work ethic and resilience of MNUFC from his experience playing against the squad over the last few years.
“We always found it a really tough game [against MNUFC], because we knew that they're going to be a hard-working team and that's been evident from my time here,” he said. “Everyone is so committed to the team and the organization in general, so I expect nothing to change there. In every game with LAFC, we saw that as a game we really had to pay special attention to because of how challenging it can be to play against a team like Minnesota. I'm looking forward to helping build on that as the season goes on.”
The goalkeeper takes his humanitarian work off the field just as seriously, having seen firsthand what cancer can do to people and their families when it struck his. His brother’s fiancée fought brain cancer and is now cancer-free, while his father is battling lung cancer right now.
“Philanthropy work is huge for me,” he said. “I am always taking the mindset that I'm a professional athlete but more so, how can I affect the community that I live in and how can I give back to the people that come support us every week? For me, it's been a family matter with cancer in my family. That's touched me and I got to see firsthand how difficult it can be and so doing anything I can to help the community and help local kids and cancer patients to just have a good day or raise money for them or just make them laugh — that's something I really value. At the end of the day, I'm a professional athlete, but the impact that I can have on my community is more important to me.”
For now, it’s early days, to borrow one of Head Coach Adrian Heath’s favorite phrases. Exactly what impact Miller or any player will have on the pitch, in the locker room or in the community lies in the future. Last year, new arriving veterans from Alonso to Ike Opara to Jan Gregus stressed the importance of beginning well in training camp and preseason. We might not be able to see or assess all of it right now, but the groundwork is being laid for the season ahead, and Miller is eager to get started.