A Hernan Bernardello corner kick is flicked into the path of an onrushing Eric Miller. The rookie opens his body and hits the ball with his preferred right foot. FC Dallas goalkeeper Chris Seitz can’t reach it. This is turning into a debut to remember.
But Jair Benitez is standing at the near post, and Montreal Impact fans watching at home start cursing him as he stops the shot. How dare he deny Miller, the fifth overall pick of the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, a goal three minutes into his pro career?
Off the line clearances generate lots of ‘what ifs,’ and had Miller scored, the game may have shifted to the point where Montreal wouldn’t have lost 3-2 on Saturday. But that’s just conjecture. What’s concrete is coaches and teammates praising Miller's sharpness and performance, and Miller himself looking back positively at his night.
“It was obviously awesome making my pro debut,” Miller told MLSsoccer.com by phone after the game. “It was super fulfilling to be able to do that finally. As far as performance goes, it went pretty well, I thought I did okay. First half was definitely better than the second, but obviously, there’s still time to work on some improvements as the season goes.”
Unknowingly echoing head coach Frank Klopas’ postgame remarks on his team’s defensive play (“It’s a process, it doesn’t happen overnight.”), Miller at least has some encouraging stats to build on. He committed his only foul of the game in the dying moments, after he'd moved to the left side from his natural right in the 77th minute. Before then, Miller made six interceptions, four clearances and three recoveries on the right flank. Fabian Castillo’s flank.
“Yeah, he’s a very good player,” Miller said of Castillo. “He’s very skillful, very quick, so it was tough. But the guys around me did a pretty good job dealing with him, and the coaching staff prepared us super well with all the tendancies, the kind of things he likes to do. I was as prepared as I could, going into it.”
Olivier Tremblay covers the Impact on MLSsoccer.com