From his upbringing in Minnesota to signing a Generation adidas contract with MLS, the former U.S. under-20 international spoke with Goal about how he ended up in Montreal.MONTREAL - Sports have always been a big part of Eric Miller's life.
Born in Florida, Miller grew up in Minnesota after moving there with his family when he was five years old, and he happily remembers that his childhood was an especially active one since there was always a wide variety of great sports to choose from.
“In my neighborhood it was all about just playing sports, especially in the summer – that’s when it’s nice,” Miller told Goal Canada. “You’d run around the neighborhood and find 15 or 20 kids and you’d play whatever you want to play – baseball, soccer, basketball … it’s part of the culture, kids just play a ton of sports.
“When you’re American you don’t really have a specified sport as a kid, you just play anything, which I think is a good thing.”
After signing with MLS in January, Miller no longer has the time to play as many sports as he used to, for he’s now a fulltime soccer player with the Montreal Impact.
Miller laughs when he remembers that his journey as a soccer player in Minnesota all began completely by accident.
“After I had moved to Minnesota I signed up to play tee ball but the coach never called me, so my mom signed me up for soccer – it was really random actually,” Miller recounted. “My mom actually coached me for three or four years when I was really young.”
As the years went by, soccer started to take precedence over other sports. When Miller was 14, he joined Bangu Tsunami: a club that brought together the best players from Minneapolis and Saint Paul. A year later he quit playing basketball to commit to soccer year-round.
After starring with different regional sides in Minnesota, Miller graduated from high school a semester early and left for Creighton University in January 2011, a school which has a strong history of producing professional soccer players.
“It was a really good fit,” Miller said. “The coaches there are really good at developing players. Once I got there I was really committed to trying to make a professional career out of it.”
At Creighton, Miller devoted his time to learning to play a new position, right-fullback, despite the fact that it wasn’t one he had ever really played before.
“I had always kind of played a bit of everything, but when I got to Creighton their right-back graduated,” Miller said. “I never really played right-back much before, but I wanted to get on the field, so I learned to play right-back and it worked out for me, I guess."
In the spring following his admission to Creighton, Miller was called up for the U.S. under-18 national team. The following winter, he joined the U-20s, which he would help qualify for the U-20 World Cup in Turkey, eliminating Canada - a team that included current Impact first-team players Max Crepeau and Zakaria Messoudi - in the process.
Drawn into the World Cup’s most difficult group, the U.S. was knocked out in the first round, but it proved to be a memorable experience for Miller.
“At the World Cup, we played Spain, who had won the Euro, France who ended up winning the tournament, and Ghana who got third, so we had a very tough group,” Miller explained. “But it was really a great experience, we got to play in the Galatasaray stadium and all that stuff so it was awesome.”
Miller’s performances with the U-20s also caught the attention of Frank Klopas, who became the Montreal Impact’s head coach in December, just before MLS draft.
“I had seen Eric with the U-20 national team,” Klopas told Goal Canada. “I know his coach Tab [Ramos] really well, we played together in the national team at the World Cup and he spoke very highly of him. He’s a good technical player, tactically very smart, and he plays with a lot of maturity in his game.”
Coming to the end of his time at Creighton, Miller thought about testing his luck in Europe, with trials in Germany and Belgium, but MLS’ offer of a Generation adidas contract was too good to turn down.
After trading their 10th pick in the draft, an undisclosed amount of allocation money and a 2014 international spot (which the Impact got back in a later trade) for FC Dallas' fifth pick, the Impact were able to draft Miller fifth overall.
“It was a small price to pay,” Impact sporting director Nick De Santis explained following the draft.
Miller himself wasn’t at all expecting to be drafted by Montreal. His agent, who's a friend of Impact technical director Matt Jordan, asked Jordan the night before the draft if there was any interest from the Impact in the young fullback and Jordan said that there wasn’t.
“It was a little bit of tradecraft, trying to throw other teams off, so I really didn’t think Montreal was in the picture,” Miller explained. “I thought I was going to Vancouver or Seattle.
“But it’s all worked out well in the end.”
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