When Eric Miller walked on to the field at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday to make his debut for Minnesota United, it was a “fairy tale, dream come true kind of thing.”
The Woodbury native, who came to the Loons in a deadline-day trade last week from the Colorado Rapids, was finally back playing for the hometown club.
“I thought eventually it would be something that I would like to do, come home to Minnesota and play for the Loons,” Miller said. “But I didn’t think it would happen so soon.”
In a wild first game, Miller lasted about 80 minutes in the Loons’ 1-0 victory over Vancouver, a win that required an intense defensive effort to preserve a one-goal lead with 10 men.
Miller said he has been playing away from home so long — at college in Creighton and then professionally in Montreal and Colorado — that he forgot how hot it could get here in the summer and had a calf cramp.
While coach Adrian Heath said Miller will “probably think he’s had a stroke in the morning when he wakes up,” since this was the player’s first game of the season, the coach was pleased with the left back’s steady play.
“You get a new coach, you get some new players who come in, and the coach has preferences on whom he wants to play,” Miller explained of his decrease in playing time. “That’s just kind of the way it goes in professional sports.”
Miller should feel right at home with United, though. He played with center back Brent Kallman in high school and college. He also played with winger Ethan Finlay and goalkeeper Alex Kapp at Creighton, as well as midfielders Sam Cronin, Collin Martin and Collen Warner and defender Marc Burch at different points in his career.
“It was always really fun to play with him in high school and in college,” Kallman said. “We always had a really good relationship on the field and off the field, so I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s like now when things are a little bit different. We’ve both grown a lot.”
Miller wasn’t the only player making his first start for United. Winger Alexi Gomez and forward Mason Toye also made their debuts. While Toye’s ended pretty sourly with a red card, Gomez managed to set up the winning goal, his cross finding Miguel Ibarra unmarked on the far post.
“This is probably the first time I’ve seen him play a game,” Ibarra said of the newly arrived Gomez, who came on for the last 12 minutes of last week’s game. “You can just tell when you give him the ball and move on, he’s good technically. He has a left foot that is just going to put the ball on everyone’s feet. So he’s going to help us out a lot on offense.”
His contribution will be needed. United heads into Wednesday’s game at LAFC with two forwards injured and the other suspended.