The last time Minnesota United goalkeeper Tyler Miller played in Orlando for successive weeks, his body told him something was wrong.
Nearly nine months later, he's back again and this time, feeling so right.
Miller played through last summer's MLS is Back tournament before he, his agent, family, the club's training staff and management all agreed he needed hip surgery that repaired the labrum and impingement in both. It ended his season in August.
Miller returned from rehab ready to train again last winter, more than a month ahead of schedule. Now he is back on the grass, in the Florida sun competing with young Dayne St. Clair for the starter's job. A MLS veteran who's now 28, Miller played all 90 minutes in a 9-0 preseason-opening victory over Charleston last Saturday.
"He has been really good," Loons coach Adrian Heath said. "Tyler looks like he is back to himself."
St. Clair, 23, played Wednesday's victory over Columbus after having returned from World Cup qualifiers with his Canadian national team.
The Loons play the third of four preseason games Saturday against FC Cincinnati, with the April 16 season opener at Seattle 13 days away.
"It feels amazing just to train again after what I've gone through," Miller said by phone from Orlando. "I feel physically great. I feel mentally great. Honestly, I feel the best I've felt in my entire career."
He said hip pain bothered him through "the entirety of my career" that started in MLS at Seattle and Los Angeles FC. But what he called a "lingering issue that needed to get resolved" wasn't diagnosed until he came to Minnesota and the condition worsened when he played all six tournament games that resumed MLS' 2020 season.
With the rest of the season in doubt because of the coronavirus pandemic, Miller chose August surgery.
"There's never a great time, but we determined this was the best time to recover and get ready for this upcoming season," Miller said.
While he rehabilitated, he dabbled in commentary on the Loons' TV broadcasts. Miller earned a communications degree at Northwestern and interned with the Chicago Fire while there.
"Honestly, I got a pretty good adrenaline rush sitting down there, trying to come up with a few good points," he said. "You realize how quickly the game goes when you're watching it from that perspective."
Heath calls his team "really, really strong" at goalkeeper with Miller and St. Clair competing for starter's job. Veteran Andre Zendejas and 17-year-old Fred Emmings complete a group about which St. Clair says, "We all have different skill sets."
"We cover the full spectrum there," Heath said. "We've got young ones, we've got experienced ones."
St. Clair started last season's final 16 games, recorded eight clean sheets and helped the Loons to the Western Conference final. Miller started eight games in the disrupted season, with one clean sheet.
"We have to make sure they get enough minutes so they're both sharp," Heath said. "It's more difficult for Ty because he has been out longer. We have to be careful how we do it. We've got a lot of competition there."
When asked if there's enough playing time to keep both sharp and content, Heath said, "There's no decision made whatsoever on the goalkeeper situation. We will take it week to week, day to day and see where we are come opening day of the season."
Miller calls that competition and Heath's ensuing decisions "out of my control," except for how he plays daily.
"You know, that's not really my decision," Miller said. "The coaching staff is going to manage and handle that. That's not really something I can worry about. All I can do is perform the best I can and see what happens."
Whatever happens, Miller calls his perspective changed by last summer's surgery and his road back from it.
"When you're out for a long time, you appreciate the game in a new way," he said. "From out for six months to now being fully fit, I'm more appreciative that I can train and work at my game that I love."