Minnesota United goalkeeper Tyler Miller returned Wednesday for the first time to Banc of California Stadium, where he was Los Angeles FC's starter for much of its first two historic seasons.
With money spent generously, LAFC set MLS records for points in a season, goal differential and tied for goals scored in 2019, its second season in which it also won the Supporters' Shield.
It did so after selecting Miller first overall in the 2018 expansion draft, from Seattle. The Loons traded for him before the 2020 season after they couldn't re-sign MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Vito Mannone.
"It was a very exciting time, the first opportunity I had to be a starter in this league," Miller said. "Being an expansion club, there were growing pains. But to cap it off with winning the Supporters' Shield and setting the points record, it was a very amazing experience. It was a learning experience.
"I definitely matured. I had to pinch myself where I was living because, growing up in Woodbury, New Jersey, I never expected to live in Los Angeles."
Miller has lost but one game in his two seasons in Minnesota. The Loons went 3-0-2 with him as starter in 2020 before hip surgeries ended his season early. They are 6-1-3 since he became starter after his team started this season 0-4 with Dayne St. Clair as the starter. That's 9-1-5 as starter for Miller in those two seasons.
"What's the stats? He's lost one game for us?" Loons coach Adrian Heath asked. "He has been terrific. Let's hope it continues. … We were delighted to get him, for sure. He's going back to his club where he did really, really well for them. I'm sure it's a big game for him, a special game."
Miller watched from afar while rehabilitating his hips when the Loons went to L.A. and won 2-0 last September.
Finlay in the 11
Defender Michael Boxall and left-side attacker Franco Fragapane remained out Wednesday night because of thigh injuries and striker Adrien Hunou wasn't included in the starting 11 for tactical reasons.
Brent Kallman started at Boxall's right center-back position and Ethan Finlay started on the right side up front with Emanuel Reynoso and Robin Lod. Jacori Hayes started in the central midfield rather than Jan Gregus with Hassani, Dotson and Wil Trapp in a 4-3-3 formation.
Heath indicated Thursday that Boxall could play Saturday against Vancouver in Salt Lake City. Boxall and Fragapane both traveled to L.A. on the team's charter Tuesday. Striker Ramon Abila didn't.
Keeping a medal count
A lover of many sports, Heath calls himself an Olympics watcher who hasn't had much time to do so. But he pays attention to the important things
"It has been a bit difficult to follow it," he said. "I noticed that the Brits are doing really well in the swimming pool. One or two things, a couple of golds and a silver. I think we finished second in the medal table last Olympics. I don't know where we are at this one."
Great Britain was sixth among all nations in the medal count as of Wednesday evening.
The only way to fly ...
The Loons are on a road trip – not just a road game – by chartered aircraft this week with games Wednesday and Saturday against Vancouver in Salt Lake City on their way back home. They fly to Utah on Thursday.
MLS mandated charter flights last year after the COVID-19 pandemic hit to minimize exposure to the virus.
"It is unusual, but the thing about the charters is it makes life a lot of easier for us," Heath said. "Not going around the airports and getting up at whatever godforsaken hour to get the connection, long may the charters continue."
Loons prospect Patrick Weah is headed home next week from three weeks in Spain with club Real Betis.
"It's a great experience, going to a big club," Heath said. "Obviously, his eyes have been opened a little bit to the level of competition. I think it might be something he's a bit surprised about."