There was no shortage of opportunity with club and country for U-23 MNT defender Eric Miller in 2015.
His club, the Montreal Impact, advanced to the Finals of the CONCACAF Champions League and reached the MLS Cup playoffs for the second time in its short Division I history. Additionally, Miller was selected to play for the U-23 MNT in the prestigious Toulon Tournament last summer in France and the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament in the fall.
However, injuries foiled his big international opportunities. He sustained a hamstring injury while playing for Montreal just a week before the Toulon Tournament and suffered a groin injury just one day prior to the start of Olympic Qualifying. He finished the year with four starts and appearances for the U-23s, including two friendlies against Brazil in November.
Despite a frustrating string of injuries, Miller has been granted a fresh start and even greater opportunity to join the senior team for the first time during January Camp.
“Obviously it’s something you always dream about – to get called in to the full team,” Miller said this week following a training session at the StubHub Center. “Playing with the U-20s and the U-23s, it’s sort of the path that you see, but to finally get that call – it was pretty incredible, and I was pretty stunned when it first happened."
Now he and a number of his fellow U-23s have joined a handful of senior MNT players to begin preparation for March’s home-and-home series against Colombia, which will determine the final berth at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.
“On the National Team, if you’re playing with your age group, you’re all on a pretty similar playing field,” Miller noted. “It’s all guys in a similar stage in their career. But now, to be around guys who are older and wiser in certain aspects of the game, it’s fantastic. The older guys have done a really, really good job so far of pulling guys aside and saying ‘maybe look at something like this, maybe try doing something like that.’ That stuff is hugely valuable for us as we look towards Colombia.”
Miller is one of nine defenders in camp. Veterans Matt Besler and Brad Evans have a combined 44 appearances and experience in big-time tournaments. The other seven defenders have collected only two caps combined, with Matt Miazga and Steve Birnbaum each making their debuts in 2015. Miller, Kellyn Acosta, Tim Parker and Brandon Vincent are all in their first senior team camp.
“With those guys you have mainstays with the National Team. Besler was [in Brazil] and Brad Evans was huge in getting us to the World Cup,” Miller said of his experienced teammates. “So to be able to learn from those guys, I think it’s great. It’s important for us younger guys, especially as a defender. Older guys are always very savvy and have a lot of interesting things they can teach you. You can see how they work and the little things they do to make themselves better. It’s been great for all the younger guys.”
The fifth overall pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, Miller’s top priority is to make the U-23 MNT squad that will look to qualify for this summer’s Olympics. That said, he knows the work he’s putting in during this camp could pay immediate dividends with MNT friendlies scheduled against Iceland on January 31 and Canada on February 5 at StubHub Center.
“Right now for some, it’s the first time we’ve been with the full team, so you really have to focus on every minute of every session here, and you have to be really focused here on the games we have coming up,” he said. “There’s not a ton of older guys (defenders) here, so there’s probably two younger guys that are going to get a chance to play. But with that you also have to balance that if you focus every day here, it’s going to help you with your chances in making the squad for the Colombia games. If you perform well here over the month, you have a very good shot of being part of that group and being able to help us qualify for the Olympics.”