Seeking change and the end of a three-game losing streak last September, Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath inserted young Dayne St. Clair into his starting lineup.
Replacing veteran Greg Ranjitsingh, St. Clair started the next 20 games, ending last season defending a run to the Western Conference final before starting this season as the team fell to 0-4.
On Wednesday, Heath countered that winless start with another change in keepers — healed-up veteran Tyler Miller in this time, St. Clair out — that might have been mostly for change's sake. It produced a 1-0 victory over Vancouver.
"As much as I'd love to take credit, I'm not the sole reason we won," Miller said.
He made five saves while his teammates played better defensively around him at Allianz Field. Nine months after Miller underwent season-ending surgeries on both hips last August, he was finally able — as a player — to experience fans singing "Wonderwall" after a Loons home victory.
"Sometimes it's not about form, it's about doing something different, a different response from the people in front of you," Heath said. "Obviously, the change of voice sometimes helps and maybe refocuses the guys in front of you."
Except for a goal or maybe two, Heath never blamed St. Clair for the four losses to open the season, with opponents outscoring the Loons 10-3. He praised Miller's poised return after nine months away and the other 10 players around him.
"Rather than compare what he did and what Dayne did, we would be better to talk about the collective effort to defend the goal, which I thought was better than it has been all season," Heath said.
Miller had surgery to repair a torn labrum in each hip after the Loons lost in the MLS is Back tournament semifinal in Orlando last August. Miller started the season's first five games.
He said he set goals for his long rehabilitation, reaching little ones along the way while aiming to start this season healthy. He did, but didn't get the chance to play until Wednesday.
"I had a mix of emotions — excited, anxious, nervous, all of it," Miller said. "I just allowed myself to really embrace the moment and trust myself that I've been preparing for this opportunity for the last nine months. All the work I've done, it was just an amazing first game back."
Heath called Miller's first game since August just what he expected.
"He showed us what we always knew," Heath said. "He's a great professional. Since he has been here, he has been really diligent in everything he does. Nine months is a long time, especially when it's a hip operation. Everything a goalkeeper does is very dynamic, whether it's jumping or diving. I wasn't surprised he looked as assured as he did."
Heath told Miller on Monday that he would start Wednesday. Miller's father flew from New Jersey on short notice to watch the game. His mom is expected in town Friday for Saturday's game against FC Dallas.
"As much as I've been wanting to play, my parents have been really wanting to see me play themselves," Miller said. "Having my dad there was a very special moment for me. With the surgery, coming back from it and being able to share that moment with him is something I'll cherish for the rest of my life."